Craig Fitzgibbon’s start to life as an NRL head coach has been one filled with optimism and garnished with a couple of harsh lessons.
Having served his apprenticeship under Trent Robinson at the Roosters for several years, as well as dabbled in the representative arena with various NSW Origin roles, Fitzgibbon finally took the plunge into head coaching this season with the job at Cronulla and has settled into the position with aplomb.
Cronulla have played a tough yet entertaining brand of football that has been the admiration of many opposition teams and appear destined for future success under their new coach.
Although it’s too early to forecast premierships, by winning six out of his opening ten games with the Sharks, the start to Fitzgibbon’s head coaching career when compared with others who have gone on to win NRL titles deserves recognition.
So how does he stack up against other coaches over the last 20 years in their rookie NRL season?
|Trent Robinson (Roosters)||2013||8||Premiership|
|Kevin Moore (Bulldogs)||2009||8||Preliminary Final|
|Anthony Griffin (Broncos)||2011||7||Preliminary Final|
|Paul McGregor (Dragons)||2015||7||Qualifying Final|
|Brad Fittler (Roosters)||2008||6||Semi Final|
|Craig Fitzgibbon (Sharks)||2022||6||–|
|Brad Arthur (Eels)||2014||6||Qualifying Final|
|Anthony Seibold (Rabbitohs)||2018||6||Preliminary Final|
|Michael Maguire (Rabbitohs)||2012||6||Preliminary Final|
|Geoff Toovey (Sea Eagles)||2012||6||Preliminary Final|
|Adam O’Brien (Knights)||2020||6||Qualifying Final|
|Craig Bellamy (Storm)||2003||6||Semi Final|
|Ricky Stuart (Roosters)||2002||6||Premiership|
|Jason Demetriou (Rabbitohs)||2022||5||–|
|Neil Henry (Raiders)||2007||5||14th|
|Paul Green (Cowboys)||2014||5||Semi-Final|
|Andrew McFadden (Warriors)||2015||5||13th|
|John Morris (Sharks)||2019||5||Qualifying Final|
|Steve Price (Dragons)||2012||5||9th|
|Nathan Brown (Dragons)||2003||5||11th|
|Trent Barrett (Sea Eagles)||2016||4||12th|
|John Cartwright (Titans)||2007||4||12th|
|Ivan Cleary (Warriors)||2006||4||10th|
|Todd Payten (Cowboys)||2021||4||14th|
|Jason Taylor (Rabbitohs)||2007||4||Qualifying Final|
|Rick Stone (Knights)||2010||4||11th|
|Des Hasler (Sea Eagles)||2004||3||13th|
|Justin Holbrook (Titans)||2020||3||9th|
|Shane Flanagan (Sharks)||2011||3||13th|
|Stephen Kearney (Eels)||2011||3||14th|
|Dean Pay (Bulldogs)||2018||3||12th|
|Garth Brennan (Titans)||2018||3||14th|
|Matthew Elliott (Raiders)||2002||2||Qualifying Final|
|David Furner (Raiders)||2009||2||13th|
|Michael Potter (Tigers)||2013||2||15th|
|Kevin Walters (Broncos)||2021||2||14th|
HAS AN NRL COACH WON A PREMIERSHIP IN THEIR ROOKIE YEAR?
TRENT ROBINSON (2013 – ROOSTERS)
As far as rookie seasons go as a coach, Trent Robinson’s in 2013 will be a tough one for anyone to beat.
After joining the Tricolours following a two-year coaching apprenticeship at Catalans, Robinson took the club to an NRL premiership in his first season.
While he was just the sixth person ever to win a premiership in their rookie season as coach, he was the youngest ever to achieve that feat.
It laid the foundations for Robinson to now be known as the most successful coach in Roosters history, with three premierships already to his name and perhaps more on the horizon.
RICKY STUART (2002 – ROOSTERS)
Under the tutelage of coaching director Phil Gould, a 34-year-old Ricky Stuart took on the job at the Roosters in 2002.
Only two years retired from his playing career, Stuart had very little exposure to the wild world of coaching before taking the reins of the traditional club.
Starting his career 1-4, it was a baptism of fire for the Raiders great, but he managed to turn things around, with the Roosters winning nine of their next 11 matches.
It was the start of something very special in Bondi, with Stuart going on to miraculously lead the Tricolours to their first title since 1975 in just his first season at the helm.
OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS
PAUL GREEN (2014 – COWBOYS)
Paul Green is the Cowboys’ only premiership-winning coach and remarkably led them to the title in just his second season as an NRL coach.
Green moved from a role as an assistant under Trent Robinson at the Rosters to take on the head coaching job in North Queensland in 2014 and had immediate success.
While the Cowboys won five of their opening 10 games under Green that year, they came home with a wet sail, winning eight of their final 10 games to finish in fifth after the regular season, before being knocked out by the Roosters in the semi-finals.
Green’s impressive first year at the helm would lay the foundations for the 2015 season, where the Cowboys lost just eight games and went on to win one of the most iconic grand finals of all time against Brisbane.
MICHAEL MAGUIRE (2012 – RABBITOHS)
Although it took Michael Maguire three goes before securing his first premiership, the start to his NRL coaching career deserves recognition.
‘Madge’ took the reigns at Redfern in 2012 after a title-laden stint at St. Helens in the Super League, guiding the Rabbitohs to their first preliminary final since 1989.
There was a sense that under Maguire, South Sydney was on the verge of a return to its glory days, and while they fell agonisingly short again in 2013, losing in the preliminary finals again that year, they didn’t have to wait much longer.
Maguire and his side made no mistake in 2014, finishing the regular season in third before going on a stunning finals run to claim their first premiership and snap a 43-year title drought.
Maguire would coach his last season at Redfern three seasons later, but he will forever be seen as a Rabbitohs hero after coaching them to glory in 2014.