Vodafone Warriors CEO Cameron George wants the club’s next coach to be a “hard arse” and Stacey Jones’ first meeting with his players after taking over the role for the remainder of the season suggests he may be the man for the job.
Jones, who wants to focus on Sunday night’s match against the Sharks before even considering whether he wants to be Nathan Brown’s long-term successor, didn’t sugar coat his words as he outlined where the Vodafone Warriors need to improve.
“Our effort and what we are doing there is way off the mark and that was the message to the group this morning,” said Jones said.
“We need to fix up small areas of our game to be better.
“The big thing I just spoke about is that it has been evident for the past month that our resilience, our steel, our effort is not there and that is the part of the game we have got to sort out before we can sort anything else out. That is a big focus for me.”
Brown parted ways with the Vodafone Warriors after advising George and owner Mark Robinson about 10 days ago that he could not commit to the club long term as changes to his family situation prevented him moving to New Zealand.
Our resilience, our steel, our effort is not there and that is the part of the game we have got to sort outStacey Jones Vodafone Warriors interim head coach
However, the performance of the team in last Saturday night’s 12-44 loss to Manly almost certainly brought the issue of his future with the Vodafone Warriors to a head and Jones said he would make changes.
The Vodafone Warriors are returning home in three weeks to play their first game in New Zealand since 2019 against Wests Tigers on July 3 and the fact they now have a club legend in charge should soften the disappointment of fans with the team’s form this season.
However, Jones made it clear he is not doing the job for sentimental reasons and is prepared to make difficult selection calls if players aren’t performing.
“We certainly have to make some changes, whether it be positional changes, but right now as a group we need to be stable,” he said after naming an unchanged line-up for the clash with the Sharks.
“The players have been certainly hurt by what has been going on – by performances and with Brownie leaving – but I had a really good meeting, and they were really supportive.
“They will get behind me with whatever I do. I have just got to make some tough calls going forward.”
Despite Wests Tigers also parting ways with Kiwis coach Michael Maguire on Tuesday – the first time two coaches have been sacked on the same day - George said the Vodafone Warriors were in no hurry to appoint a long-term replacement for Brown.
According to rugby league historian David Middleton, the previous closest departures of NRL coaches was Daniel Anderson at the Vodafone Warriors and Paul Langmack at South Sydney, which occurred over a 48 hour period in 2004.
George hopes to make an appointment by August and he has a clear idea of the type of coach the club needs need.
“To be honest, I want to see someone be a bit of a hard arse. We need to steel up our defence, we need to steel up our attitude, and that is right across the board,” he said.
“Someone who can bring a bit of a hard edge I think would be really good. Everyone carries it in a different way and I just like the simple approach to footy.
“If someone comes to us and presents well and has a very simple philosophy and has the effort areas really strong, I think they are the key attributes that can help our club with the playing rosters that we have got over here.”
While many would interpret George’s comments as suggesting the club was after an experienced coach like Maguire, he said: “We are not scared of a rookie”.
Jones played 261 matches for the Vodafone Warriors as well as 46 Tests for New Zealand, was the 2002 Golden Boot winner and was inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame in 2019.
The star playmaker spearheaded the Kiwis to Tri-Nations glory in 2005 – the first time any nation had beaten the Kangaroos in a series or tournament since 1978 – and led the Vodafone Warriors to their first grand final appearance in 2002.
Since retiring in 2009, Jones has been involved in coaching and he was an assistant to Brown.
“It’s not an ideal situation for me or the team that we are in this position but I accepted the role and I know I have good support from Justin Morgan and Slade Griffin, the other coaches, and also from the rest of the staff,” he said.
“I had a good meeting with our leadership group and obviously they’re disappointed with where we are at, but they are very supportive of me in this role.
“It is an interim role for now. The club has been open - they are looking for the right person to take over and whoever that person might be they will do their due diligence, and I understand that.
“I have always wanted to coach, but whether it be as assistant coach or when I have had the under 20s or reserve grade, I certainly didn’t have massive aspirations to be an NRL coach.
“It has come in this situation, which is not ideal, but I am going to give it my best shot, and I totally know that the club will find the right person to lead this club into the future.
“We will see how it pans it, but I know that the club will be looking for the right person. There are plenty of good coaches out there and I understand the situation the club is in.
“Right now, I am just focused on trying to get our season back on track.”