By Adam Hayward
As a passionate supporter of the North Queensland Cowboys, when I first heard that former coach Paul Green has suddenly passed away, my heart sunk, and I dropped in disbelief.
I kept asking myself, how could this happen? It can’t be real. I was absolutely gutted.Embed from Getty Images
The 2015 premiership will live on in the hearts of Cowboys fans forever, and we will forever be appreciative of Green’s contributions to our club.
I will never forget his reaction in the coach’s box when Johnathan Thurston kicked the match winning field goal in extra-time to win the grand final. Watching him being embraced by his assistant coaches, then banging on the glass in a memorable moment of jubilation.
It still gives me goosebumps every time I go back and watch those highlights.
Then came the memorable run to the grand final in 2017. The former Cowboys coach galvanized the squad when co-captains Thurston and Matt Scott went down with season ending injuries.
The Cowboys were very quickly written off. But Green still had the belief in the rest of his squad that they could achieve something special without their inspirational co-captains.
Every game, the mantra was – ‘stay in the fight!’Embed from Getty Images
And that they did. Scraping into the finals in eighth position, then pulling off three monumental upset wins on a famous run to the grand final.
Unfortunately, Green’s men lost that grand final. But as Cowboys fans, we might have been prouder of the 2017 team than the 2015 premiership team.
How Green was able to lift that side from the doldrums to the grand final was incredible. I couldn’t have been happier for him.
When Green was first appointed as head coach in mid-2013 to take over the following season, I was unconvinced and rather perplexed, as then-coach Neil Henry had helped build a strong roster and returned the Cowboys to the finals after a few lean years.
The 2013 Cowboys side then went on an impressive winning streak to qualify for the finals. I was convinced the club made a mistake in appointing the then-Roosters assistant coach to take over, because I thought the club was heading in the right direction under Henry.
When Green arrived for the 2014 season, he made a few key changes including shifting Thurston from five-eighth to halfback and given a license to play the full width of the field. He named Michael Morgan as starting fullback and turned Jason Taumalolo into a starting lock forward.
The Cowboys looked like a more balanced side. They were more consistent with their on-field performances.
Green was savvy with his analysis. He was impressive in interviews and post-game press conferences. He struck me as a very intelligent coach, and he won me over. I became really excited about what he could achieve with the team.
It was very tough watching him struggle with the Cowboys after that 2017 grand final.
He had the unenviable task of building towards the post-Thurston era. The team had aged, their style of play quickly became stale, and they failed to evolve.Embed from Getty Images
He was copping criticism left, right and centre – including from our own fan base. But I suppose criticism comes with such a high-profile position, especially when success leads to failure.
Unfortunately, in 2020 the club decided it was time for a change and Green’s tenure as head coach came to an end. He put on a brave face during the press conference which it was announced, but I could see the hurt in his face.
Head coaching in professional sports, especially in the NRL, is a brutal career choice. We often see coaches unceremoniously sacked, and with only 16 head coaching jobs available in the NRL, the opportunities can quickly dry up.
I could never speculate as to what the man affectionally known as ‘Greeny’ was going through and why he to chose to do what he did.
But looking at the past couple of years since his tenure as Cowboys coach ended, he missed out on the Broncos job – a position it was said that he desperately wanted. Wayne Bennett was appointed coach of the new franchise. Then with a handful of clubs in search for new head coaches, Green’s name seemed to fall down the list.
Craig Fitzgibbon landed the Sharks job. Souths had a succession plan for Andrew Demetriou. Cameron Ciraldo became the most in-demand preference for several clubs. And in respect of experienced, premiership winning coach options, there seemed to be a consensus that Shane Flanagan was a better option than the Cowboys premiership winning coach.
I don’t think his one series as Queensland State of Origin coach helped his cause, as the Maroons were pummelled in the first two games.
As an observer of the so-called ‘coaching merry-go-round,’ it saddened me that Green wasn’t pounced on when a head coaching job became available. I always felt he would have learned from his mistakes during his final years at the Cowboys and would make for a great coach at another NRL club.
There are valuable lessons we can take from the passing of Paul Green.
We must remember that struggling coaches, players and referees are human beings just doing their best. We should always take into consideration when we criticise. Unless you have been in their shoes, we couldn’t possibly understand the pressure they are under.
Never be afraid to speak out if you’re struggling. Always check on your family and friends to make sure they are ok, regardless of whether they are smiling and seem fine. Let’s do more to take care of each other.
Greeny, I think I can speak on behalf of all Cowboys fans when I say, we will never forget the legacy you have left behind at our great club. We may go on to win many more premierships, but none could ever be as special as the first, which you delivered.
My condolences to Paul Green’s family, friends and everyone effected by his passing. Rest easy, legend!
Featured Image: Paul Greens premiership celebration in the coaches box (Credit: Channel 9’s 2015 Grand Final broadcast)
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