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The tough life of the NRL caretaker coach

When a club's NRL season is pronounced dead and the undertaker has finished with the coach, it's up to the caretaker.
The tough life of the NRL caretaker coach
by NRL

By Ben Horne

SYDNEY, Aug 2 AAP - When a club's NRL season is pronounced dead and the undertaker has finished with the coach, it's up to the caretaker.

Invariably this awkward handover from fallen head coach to trusted assistant happens to at least one club every season.

In fact there's only been two years in the past decade where a caretaker hasn't been called in to lead a busted team to the end of a campaign.

Parramatta's Brad Arthur is the latest entrant to the niche community of the NRL caretaker coach, following the resignation of Stephen Kearney.

Taking over the reins at the last-placed side with only six weeks to go in the competition is a thankless task.

Not to mention the guilt you feel taking over from the coach you've been loyally serving, who has now got the bullet.

But in the cut-throat world of NRL coaching, it can be the only way for a hard working aspirant to be given a look-in at the top level.

"The more games you win the better your resume gets to try and find a job in the NRL, because it's pretty hard to find a job in the NRL," says a man speaking from experience, Steve Georgallis.

After taking over at Penrith from Matt Elliott last year, Georgallis had a couple of weeks to prove himself to club boss Phil Gould.

Georgallis gained immediate results but was overlooked, with Warriors coach Ivan Cleary getting the Panthers post.

Jim Dymock suffered a similar fate at Canterbury, with Des Hasler appointed for this season despite Dymock's success as a caretaker.

Now an assistant at Wests Tigers, Georgallis isn't bitter, but he's proof that turning a relief position into a fulltime gig, is one hell of a challenge.

"Opportunities are limited but it's just great experience and it helps you to realise you can do it if you ever get the opportunity again," Georgallis says.

Essentially, the caretaker throws himself at the mercy of his players and the rugby league gods - and the outcome is a lottery.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is a rare survivor of the caretaker caper, despite taking a losing record from his seven games taking over from Ricky Stuart in 2010.

Flanagan is one of the most promising coaches in the NRL, but under a different set of circumstances he may have got unlucky like Georgallis and Dymock.

The caretaker might have his own ambitions, but Flanagan says it's never about you.

"Over six weeks it's more about the players unfortunately," he says.

"To change systems and beliefs, you just can't do it within six weeks.

"It's a tough period. No one wants to see the coach go ... it's not really your gig, you've just got to manage it and hopefully the players jump on board."

The job prospects aren't healthy, but it's become the surest bet in rugby league that a caretaker will at least win his first match in charge.

True to form, Brad Arthur guided the Eels to an incredible 42-22 win over premiership contenders Brisbane last Monday.

But regardless of what he achieves over the next five weeks, Ricky Stuart will coach the Eels next year.

Some caretakers are directly auditioning for a job, but for Arthur he's investing in the future.

Perhaps Arthur can take heart from Jason Taylor's rise into coaching back in 2006, also at the Eels.

Parramatta had already appointed Michael Hagan as their 2007 head coach, but Taylor's remarkable efforts from mid-season lift the Eels into the finals won him a job at South Sydney.

Arthur's been told he's wanted by the Eels next year, but he'll only stay if Stuart wants him on his staff.

Arthur says the pressure is off in a sense, and he wants to be himself.

"We've really got nothing to lose so definitely it's a great experience for me where I've got to learn from it and get better," Arthur told AAP.

"I'll probably make some mistakes along the way but as long as I pick them up and correct them, I'll try and put my name forward a bit.

"I haven't spoken to Ricky yet ... I only want to be here if Ricky has a role for me.

"If I can have 12 months or two years more learning under him ... then what I want to do is try and make a career out of coaching."

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