Titanic truth: ‘We needed to change everything'
GOLD Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook has overhauled every aspect of the battling NRL team and says he isn't a clone of Roosters premiership master Trent Robinson.
Holbrook is about to embark on his first season as an NRL coach after rounding out a promising pre-season for the Titans.
After winning last year's Super League premiership with St Helens, Holbrook inherited a Titans team from sacked coach Garth Brennan that won only four matches on its way to claiming the 2019 NRL wooden spoon.
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Holbrook, 44, has an impressive coaching resume, completing his apprenticeship with posts at the Bulldogs, Dragons and Eels before serving as Robinson's right-hand man at the Sydney Roosters.
Robinson has won three of the past seven NRL premierships, including the last two, to join Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy in the league's super coach ranks.
But Holbroo said he was determined to forge a career as his own man and wouldn't be looking to copy Robinson's playbook.
"I learnt a lot (under Robinson), he is really big on the details of the game," he said.
"I learnt a lot about how to play the game and his philosophy around that.
"The clubs at the top are there for a reason - because they work the hardest.
"They don't outplay you - they outwork you. That's what we've got to strive for.
"There are different ways to do things and still have success. There is no right or wrong way to coach.
"Hard work and being honest has been in rugby league for 120 years. Those things don't change.
"I'm definitely my own coach. I don't think two people can be the same. That's what gives people their individuality.
"It's about getting knowledge and detail in the game, then you've got to put your own stamp on things."
RAISING THE TITANIC
A former soft drink salesman and restaurateur, Holbrook played 17 first-grade games for the Knights, Panthers and Roosters from 1999-2002 before entering the coaching ranks.
He left his assistant's post at Roosters in 2017 to head to England, guiding St Helens to the most dominant season in Super League history last year before hopping on a plane bound for the Gold Coast to take on the toughest job in the NRL.
The Titans' last appearance in the NRL finals was in 2016 and the club has since recorded finishes of 15th, 14th and 16th in the 16-team competition, punting coaches Neil Henry and Brennan along the way.
By many reports, the club was not a happy place to be around last year, with a lack of performance and player revolt eventually costing Brennan his job in less than two seasons.
Holbrook brought in new assistant coaches - Jim Dymock and Jim Lenihan - and overhauled the Titans' training, introducing a focus on basic skills and solid defence.
With Immortal Mal Meninga involved and the club's front office stable, Holbrook admitted the Titans were in better shape than he expected.
"It was a lot better - it was a really good reality (compared to my expectations)," he said.
"I already knew there were good people at the club in the front office. Once we got our coaching staff in place it was down to starting the pre-season with the players.
"We needed to change the way we were doing everything.
"Our effort and working hard is the biggest thing we had to change. There were lots of details within defence and attack.
"The players have been great. They are well aware of last season, they don't need to be reminded of it.
"We won't be judged until the competition starts, I understand that, but the players have been terrific.
"I'm expecting them to do well. We've been training that way, they've been pushing themselves.
"I've seen a really good attitude from the boys that they want to do well. I'm confident in their ability that we can have a good year."
A NEW BEGINNING
Titans fans are among the NRL's most success starved.
The club has only won 19 of its last 72 games (26.4 per cent) and finished in the bottom three for the past three years.
Membership and crowds have dwindled and murmurs about the club's long-term future refuse to go away, despite constant assurances from the NRL and club owners.
While the Titans are heavily invested in the community, the only way to win back the support of the Gold Coast is to start winning games and Holbrook is adamant fans will be proud of their team in 2020.
There were plenty of positive signs around the club's Parkwood headquarters throughout the pre-season.
The players are happy and rave about Holbrook's knowledge, personality and approach to coaching.
The Titans made the final four of the Nines and produced a spirited comeback to beat the Broncos in their final trial before Friday's Round 1 clash against the Raiders in Canberra.
"I want our fans to look forward to coming to games and get excited about watching our team play," Holbrook said.
"When they're on their way home I want them to be proud of the team they're following.
"It's only simple but it's a big factor which decides whether you want to go to games or not.
"That's the most important thing we've got to change. As a club they lost a lot of that last year."
Holbrook has taken a gamble by signing a two-year deal with the Titans and knows he has to make improvements quickly in a cutthroat industry.
Meninga, the club's head of performance and culture, played a key role in the signing of Holbrook and is adamant the Titans have selected the right man.
"Justin has been outstanding in the short time he has been here," Meninga said.
"He has already created a happy environment here, the players have really responded to his coaching.
"The reason we went for him was because of his technical experience and his ability to lead teams.
"If you look at his track record, every club he has been to has had success. He did a very good apprenticeship at the Roosters where he was highly regarded by Trent Robinson.
"His win percentage at St Helens was outstanding and he won the premiership there before joining us.
"His man-management skills, his empathy for players and his emotional intelligence around getting the best out of players is why he got the job.
"I believe we have made the right choice."
The Titans have a horror draw in the first six weeks of the season - facing top eight teams from last year in every game - but Holbrook is ready for the challenge.
"I'm not nervous, I'm looking forward to it," he said.
"I'm confident we're in a good spot and ready for round one."