Culture comes from the top down

As poor as the New Zealand Warriors' performance was at the weekend, it was nothing compared to the debacle that has ensued off the field.

The departure of Matthew Elliott as coach of the Auckland-based National Rugby League team five weeks into the season has been a fumble of epic proportions.

From the cryptic social media comments on Sunday night to Elliott's supposed resignation on Monday, and then yesterday's revelation from Warriors co-owner Sir Owen Glenn that Elliott was, in fact, sacked and without his knowledge, the drama has befuddled and angered fans, while media commentators have been quick to question the club's culture.

In 20 years the Warriors have burned through 10 coaches.

Many would claim that's just professional sport and a sign of Australasian codes catching up with the United States. The more money invested, the quicker success must follow. When it doesn't, firing the head coach is often the default response.

For the Warriors, the signing of Englishman Sam Tompkins - reportedly for $750,000 a year plus a $900,000 transfer fee - brought added pressure and an expectation for immediate success.

But say what we like about the cut-throat commercialism of US sport, as least the owners and coaches tend to tell it like it is. If they're going to sack the coach, they sack the coach, they don't orchestrate a gutless pretence.

Following the fateful 37-6 loss to the Cronulla Sharks, fans and players were treated to vague but telling tweets from co-owner Eric Watson and Elliott. The next day they were expected to swallow the unlikely notion of a coach falling on his sword with a 2-3 record - four of the games being outside Auckland - and his team just two points outside of the top eight.

Co-owner Glenn has called the treatment of Elliott "diabolical" and contradicted the official club line that the coach resigned.

Even for a sport that courts major scandal on a weekly basis this is unprecedented, and tells us there are bigger problems at the club than missed tackles and dropped balls.

One of them may well be Watson, who confirmed Elliott had been pushed into quitting and bullishly downplayed the difference: "One way or the other he was going."

What has been seen as disrespectful and unprofessional conduct by many in the rugby league community is "semantics" to Watson.

We can only hope that on game day the players respond to the off-field fracas with more mana than their management did the on-field troubles.

Manawatu Standard