“They haven’t gone in there and redesigned football. They have gone in there and been respectful to people and got the environment right.”
He’s one of the most admired coaches in British rugby league, and Craig Lingard admits he’s learned as much from Sam Allardyce as he has from Wayne Bennett on his journey to Super League.
The 45-year old Lingard raised eyebrows this week after joining Castleford Tigers as assistant coach, while opting to continue working as head coach of Batley Bulldogs for the rest of the Betfred Championship season too.
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And speaking exclusively to The Sportsman, the Bulldogs boss revealed his surprise move to Cas came as a result of an unsuccessful application for the main job at The Jungle.
“I spoke to them about the head coach position and they asked if I’d be interested in the assistant coaching role if I didn’t get the top job,” Lingard told The Sportsman.
“Then Lasty [Andy Last] got the job, so they contacted me about coming as assistant, and we got it over the line.
“I got through to the second stage of interviews for the head coach job. They narrowed it down to two or three for the very last stage which I didn’t get to. They said there were three stages and I got through the first two.”
Lingard inspired Batley to an unlikely Championship Grand Final last year, and explained on the Love Rugby League podcast that he felt he was perhaps too “unfashionable” a name to be a Super League head coach.
12 months on and he has opted to take the step up as a number two - believing that is now the only way to play yourself into contention for when the next head coaching role comes up.
“I think it’s difficult for a Super League club to give the head coach job to someone who has never coached or worked in a full-time environment,” he explains.
“For me going from a part-time head coach to a full-time assistant coach is the natural next step in my coaching career. If it goes well then of course I want to be a full-time head coach in Super League somewhere. This is not a backward step, it is a progressive, forward step.”
Lingard insists Batley are supportive of sharing their head coach with Cas for the rest of the season - “they have told me to go which I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not!” he says, while admitting he has already given his new employers a list of transfer targets from the Championship who he believes are capable of stepping up.
“There is plenty of talent who could make that jump. Look at the last England squad, many of those players have come from the Championship.”
As for his management style, Lingard is a strong believer in character over talent. His recruitment policy is loyal to that stance of person over player, and he believes that outlook sets the best coaches above the rest in any sport.
“I look at coaches from different sports, not just rugby league, and look at longevity.
“Wayne Bennett is the standout in rugby league. He has been at the top of the game for thirty years despite how much the game has changed. So what kept him there?
“I don’t think it is technical or tactical. The most successful coaches in any sport are people persons. It is about the way you treat people, and then you have the technical knowledge after that. You need to concentrate on the individual before their abilities, get the most out of them in terms of performance.
“Look at Sam Allardyce, who talks of how everyone is blinded by thinking they have to play football like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. He’s adamant that there are different ways to play. If you play the same way as everyone else then the team with the best players will always win. Rugby league is exactly the same, a one-yard try and a one-hundred yard try both score four points.
“Look at Neil Warnock at Huddersfield and Roy Hodgson at Palace and how they have turned it around. They haven’t gone in there and redesigned football. They have gone in there and been respectful to people and got the environment right.
“The revered US basketball coach John Wooden talks about getting the right people with the right work ethic. I’d rather have a great bloke who is an average player than an average bloke who is a great player. You will always get more out of the great person than the average person.”
One great player with a great work ethic reaches another great milestone this week.
James Roby will break the all-time St Helens appearance record when he pulls on the red V for a 532nd time, surpassing former captain Kel Coslett’s feat.
“I’m very proud to have got this milestone,” the legendary hooker told The Sportsman this week.
“I’ve been lucky with injuries and lucky to be part of a great club. For a hometown lad whose dream was to play for St Helens to get the all-time appearance record is a really proud moment.”
Roby made his Saints debut in 2004 when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Twenty seasons and seven Prime Ministers later, Roby is still going strong as Saints prepare to play Salford on Channel 4 on Saturday afternoon.
He seems certain to be immortalised in a statue at the stadium alongside the club’s other legendary number nine Kieron Cunningham.
“I’d only trained once with the first team and Ian Millward told me I was on the bench on Friday,” Roby recalls of his Saints debut 19 years ago.
“He threw me in at the deep end and I was super excited to play with all these guys who I had been watching for years and years. I remember going to the game really excited and couldn’t get in the car park as the steward didn’t believe I was a player. I came on for the last 15 minutes for Sean Long, and as soon as I made the first tackle the nerves had gone.”
Speaking of Sean Long, his Featherstone side now have their biggest title lead of the Betfred Championship season, moving six points clear of their rivals thanks to a thrilling win over high-flying Sheffield.
One of Rovers’ star men however was alongside me on the commentary gantry rather than in the thick of it on the pitch, and there are genuine concerns for his playing future.
Experienced forward Elijah Taylor is recovering following eye surgery on a detached retina, with the 33 year-old uncertain when or if he will play again. Bizarrely the injury was suffered in pre-season, with the former Kiwi international playing on in recent months until he woke up last week unable to see out of one eye.
And a final word this week for all those running the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon on Sunday, which will start and finish at Headingley Stadium, Rob’s spiritual home.
Wife Lindsey, former team-mates, friends, family and fans will all come together on a memorable and emotional occasion, to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease and funds for Leeds Hospitals Charity.
Good luck to everyone taking part. Rob remains in awe of what the public is doing for him and for the Burrow family.
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