14 Aug 2020

Nathan Brown not the answer the Warriors need - Bidwell

4:07 pm on 14 August 2020

Opinion - Seldom has a story been so well timed or so important. Certainly where sport's concerned.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown.

New Warriors coach Nathan Brown. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It would be easy to dismiss sport right now. To instead focus on New Zealand's looming public health crisis and to ignore some of the issues bubbling away in sport.

Issues, such as those raised by RNZ journalist Talei Anderson, in her excellent expose on Pacific culture in rugby league.

The New Zealand Warriors have taken a decidedly Australian turn in recent days.

The haphazard manner in which new head coach Nathan Brown was signed to a three-year deal is one thing, but what that appointment signifies is quite another.

There's long been a school of thought that the Warriors lack toughness and professionalism and that those qualities are the exclusive domain of Australians. That, whenever the Warriors struggle, the answer is always to bring in a few 'hard-nosed Aussies'.

It's a view regularly offered by prominent Australian rugby league media identities and appears to have plenty to do with the Warriors' decision to bring in Brown.

Brown's done a lot of radio and television work in Australia, since being sacked by the Newcastle Knights last year. Among the things to stand out about Brown's work is his inability to pronounce Pasifika names and reluctance to often even try.

That's almost been a running gag on the radio show on which Brown is a regular. Someone guffaws, another of the panellists has a go at the pronunciation and off we go.

Brown's done plenty of media in the few days since the Warriors' shock decision to appoint him, during which he's talked about players he'd like to sign.

Turns out they're all 'hard-nosed Aussies' including one player - Jack de Belin - who has spent the last two seasons on the sideline as he awaits trial on five counts of sexual assault.

Identity is something the Warriors have struggled with over the years.

Initially the club boasted many players who'd made their names in England and, in the seasons since, have never really settled on a way of playing or decided what they stood for.

Are they a New Zealand team playing in an Australian competition or an Australian team that's based out of New Zealand? Most of the time they've been neither one thing nor the other.

One of my regular hobby horses is the Tonga rugby league team. A side who, despite boasting only a smattering of stars, last year toppled an entire team of 'hard-nosed Aussies'. And not just any old 'hard-nosed Aussies' either, but the Australian national side.

It just shows you what can happen when Pasifika players are part of an environment that respects and values them. That cares about their culture and background and allows them to be themselves, that doesn't force them to comply with the 'hard-nosed Aussie' approach.

The Warriors needed a head coach with a track record of success. A man whose methods were proven and established and who could make the club's existing players better.

But they also needed someone who would recognise what was unique about the club, and its fanbase, and who would give the players licence to be themselves.

Brown is none of those things and so far it seems his approach will be to make things as overtly Australian as possible.

As was pointed out in Anderson's article, this issue is one the entire NRL needs to address.

It's no longer good enough to treat Pasifika players as second-class, to mispronounce their names and simply expect them to assimilate to the 'dominant' culture. Partly because, with each passing season, the 'hard-nosed Aussies' are actually becoming the minority.

There's nothing like a pandemic to immediately put sport into perspective.

To teach us that there are more important things in life than worrying about which teams will participate in Super Rugby next year or how the Sydney Roosters could fit Sonny Bill Williams under the salary cap.

Regardless of gender or ethnicity or sexuality, we need to treat people equally and with respect and we need to identify instances where that doesn't occur.

Anderson's very thorough article suggested the NRL is one of those places and that the Warriors are as guilty of that as any club.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.