Jeff Wall writes:

The National Rugby League coaching saga – in which four clubs have lost their
coaches for the 2007 season even before the 2006 season gets under way – today
becomes totally bizarre with apparent confirmation that the Eels coach, Brian
Smith, is to coach the Newcastle Knights in 2007.

Smith is to be replaced at the Parramatta Eels by the current Knights coach,
Michael Hagan – a straight swap, even though that was never the plan!

And it gets even more bizarre. Who do the Newcastle Knights play in the opening
round of the NRL premiership this weekend? You guessed it – the Parramatta
Eels. On Saturday night, in Newcastle, the Brian Smith-coached Eels will play the Michael Hagan-coached
Knights. In 12 months’ time, the roles will be exactly reversed.

The pressure this latest development puts on both coaches, and both teams, will
be massive.

It was bad enough when Hagan jumped ship to sign up for the Eels when he was
told he would not be re-appointed by the Knights for 2007, after Smith had been
told he would not be at the Eels next year. There may be a precedent for it, but if there is I am unaware of it. And that’s
because it is part of a totally bizarre scenario.

Isn’t the best solution for Hagan, Smith, the Knights, and the Eels, to
make the swap NOW? Or very soon?

It’s odd enough that the Raiders coach, Matthew Elliott, is headed for the
Panthers next year while the Panthers will be coached this year by John Lang,
who was also showed the door – in advance.

But with two coaches now doing a complete swap, the situation surely creates an
environment that can only lead to controversy and instability in both clubs
this season.

No doubt the backroom officials who have created the instability will spend the
next seven months praying and hoping the instability does not get totally out
of hand, while also planning their “crisis management” strategy to avoid any
responsibility if it does.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey