Brisbane Broncos coach Kevin Walters has answered his critics and reports of a player revolt in a revealing interview.
The Broncos’ new coach has had a difficult time turning around the club’s fortunes since being appointed to the role for this season, and after Brisbane copped a 46-0 thrashing at the hands of South Sydney last week, the finger-pointing has begun.
The Courier Mail reported that Walters was facing dressing room unrest, with discontent among players about the coach’s communication and man-management skills.
Walters said he was “shocked” and “disappointed” at the report and denied there was disharmony among players about his coaching style.
“Disappointed firstly and shocked,” he told Triple M in response to the bombshell claims.
“I don’t believe it is true. One of my key assets as a coach is my relationship with people and particularly with players so I’ve got to say I don’t agree with what is happening.
“We may have some players here that are a little bit unhappy with the situation they find themselves in. Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai are both unfortunately because of our salary cap and where our roster is at, we’ve said they can both look at options at other clubs.
“I’m not saying it was those two but I just think it’s a bit unfair to be honest.”
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Walters said he did not know for sure who the players the report was referring to were and promised the matter would be addressed when the team was back together in an effort to resolve any “tension”.
“I don’t want to make it personal with any of the players,” he said.
“They’ve got six days off now so when we get back together as a group I’ll address it then. I don’t see a problem there but I will talk to the players about it certainly and bring it to a close.
“That is the important thing we need to do, keep things open and honest and I’m a very approachable person. I don’t have all the answers all the time so certainly I appreciate if players want to come see me, which they do, regularly.”
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Walters said he has spoken with key members of the team including Patrick Carrigan, Payne Haas and Kotoni Staggs about the necessity to change the direction of the Broncos, starting next week.
“They understand the situation we find ourselves in,” he said.
“We need to change how we train, why we’re training because obviously what we are doing is not working.
“The players are on break, when they come back things will be totally different around the place. The way we prepare ourselves and the way we actually play as well.”
Walters defended his communication skills and backed his decision-making with the struggling team with just three wins this year.
“This is a camp that is probably not that happy given where we are situated,” he said.
“We are at the bottom of the table so everyone is not happy. Let’s get that out on the table first. The mixed messaging – I don’t know where that has come from. I am a good communicator.
“I’m always very open and honest around selections and why players are in the side, why players are left out. That is one of the tough jobs you find yourself in as an NRL coach, to tell a player you aren’t in the side and I feel I’m being really open and honest in my feedback to players on why they are not in the side. I don’t know where that is coming from.”
When asked by former teammate Gorden Tallis if Walters could be on the end of sabotage from others within the club, the coach was ready to accept the worst.
“That could be the case,” he said.
“I’m sure at all clubs there are players that aren’t quite happy they aren’t playing first grade.
“That was the same case for all the years when I was here, not everyone can play first grade so when you are losing like we are, things just start to boil away.
“Part of my job is to try ease that tension and that’s what I feel like we’ve been doing and will address it again when the players get back next Saturday.”
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Walters described the situation he and the club were in was “rock bottom” and expressed his approach to turning around the fortunes of his former club, which he believes has lost its mental edge in recent years.
“We’ve tried to change the mentality of our players here,” Walters said.
“It’s been on the decline for the last three or four years. A grand final we played in 2015 and it’s been a gradual decline in our roster and also where we’ve been finishing on the table.
“We’ve hit rock bottom and it’s up to me and the rest of the staff here and the players to turn that around. With that comes strong and firm decisions around culture of the place and what happens here in training and on the field and that is my primary objective.
“Every decision that I make is about the club. It is not about Kevin Walters, the coaching staff or the players, it is about the club and wanting the club to get better.
“If I get some speedbumps along the way I will deal with them as I go.”
After Brisbane’s massive loss to the Rabbitohs, Walters said he supported the axing of General Manager of Football Operations Peter Nolan, and Head of Performance, Andrew Croll, by new Broncos CEO Dave Donaghy, and indicated he played a key role in deciding their fate.
“I felt something needed to change effective immediately,” he said.
“Unfortunately two great staff members, two really good people have lost their jobs as a direct result of where we sit in the competition ladder. That was a very stressful and emotional day for myself and the rest of the staff to say goodbye to those guys but I just felt that if we keep doing what we’re doing, then nothing will change.
“In my time here at the Broncos, it has been six months, it has been a tough gig but one you have to expect given where we finished last year.
“From that squad last year Jack Bird, Andrew McCullough and David Fifita have left and Kotoni Staggs hasn’t laced a boot on for us in the opening 15 rounds so when you lose particularly David Fifita and Kotoni Staggs, that is two big losses for any side.
“We’ve strung some strong performances together but not consistent enough and I just felt on Thursday night that we needed to make some changes, effective immediately.”
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“Certainly I’ve noticed a big change since Dave [Donaghy] walked into the building four weeks ago,” Walters said.
“He gave me great support and stability on the plan I had for the Broncos moving forward. He’s been a real tower of strength for me personally and also the club. We’re all in this together and so are the players.
“We’ve got nine or ten games left to make sure we get something out of the season, that’s my plan and I’m really, really confident we can execute that plan.”
Amid ongoing criticism about his “chopping and changing” team choices, especially in the halves, Walters said his hand has been forced by injuries, contract changes, and the performances players have delivered.
“At the moment we’ve only got two halfbacks available – that was Karmichael Hunt and Tyson Gamble,” he said.
“Both Brodie Croft and Anthony Milford have got knee injuries. Crofty might be back for next round and certainly Milford is out for a period. Tom Dearden was our other half and he was sold to the Cowboys three or four weeks ago.
“The chopping and changing is a direct result of the performances not being at a level I think is sustainable and I haven’t put a bloke in and pulled him out. I’ve given him an opportunity to show what he can do and in that period it wasn’t obviously up to scratch.
“If you keep doing the same thing over and over, nothing is going to change. That’s the way I see it. I feel I have been extremely fair in giving players opportunities to come into the side and show us what they can do.”
With Matt Lodge told he wasn’t wanted by the club, Walters flagged further changes ahead and promised a determined recruitment drive to address gaps in the squad.
“I like what Matt has been doing, he’s been one of our best players this year but unfortunately we need funds to strengthen up our spine,” he said.
“We’ve bought Adam Reynolds, so he’ll play in the no.7 jumper, Kotoni Staggs is coming back so he could be playing centre or five-eighth. But we need more funds to strengthen our fullback position and possibly our nine as well. It just depends who is available and who we can get.”
Walters admitted the solution to the Broncos’ woes would not be found within a year, referencing the six-year slide they’ve been on since making the 2015 NRL grand final.
“First thing is trying to get players in to strengthen up the squad because we’ve got players that are injured at the moment,” he said.
“We’re working on the roster every day, just trying to shuffle the board around to get the right people in the organisation.”
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