Manly coach Geoff Toovey talks team culture and tactics ahead of his club's do-or-die NRL semi-final clash with the Canterbury Bulldogs. By Richard Cooke.


Manly man: Geoff Toovey, 45, rugby league coach

Geoff Toovey is the coach of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in the NRL. He played for Manly for more than a decade, and has represented both New South Wales and Australia. Last year, he coached Manly to the NRL grand final. 

Richard Cooke You must be getting a bit tired of the focus on internal ructions at Manly this season. Do you think your team plays better with their backs to the wall?

Geoff Toovey Oh, look, I don’t think that that’s the case. I think we’re just very professional and don’t let it affect us. I don’t think we were any better or worse, but obviously it doesn’t affect us like it might other teams. 

RC How do you maintain that culture of professionalism? Usually when there are off-field problems, there are on-field problems, too.

GT It’s a club culture that’s been there for many decades. It’s been a very successful club over that period, since it was established, particularly over the past three or four decades. It’s passed on. I liked to think it’s passed on from generation to generation, through the players and through the staff.

RC How would you describe the culture at Manly? What makes it so different from other clubs?

GT Well, it’s a happy place to work. It’s a happy place to enjoy your sport away from football as well and away from the everyday football environment. It’s a very enjoyable place to spend your time.

RC You still enjoy working there after all this time.

GT It’s a great place to be. Especially when you live only five minutes from training, it makes it a little easier. I think the players feel that, too. They’ve got a good bond between themselves. It helps to have those forces outside your football environment as well – being happy – and mostly that’s the case here in Manly.

RC It’s much more part of a local culture than other teams today. You guys still have your own local home ground, Brookvale.

GT Well, I think this year in particular we’ve only lost one game there, and that was by a golden point against Melbourne in round one. So, look, it’s a great place to be. That culture probably spills over to the fans as well, and they enjoy the moments of success, and they suffer with us when we don’t succeed.

RC There are still ongoing issues with the Brookvale redevelopment, and the NRL is not so keen to host finals there. Your home-ground advantage is being diminished. 

GT Oh, there’s no doubt about that. But, look, they’re the rules and it’s always going to be the case. There are always going to be inequities within the game, until the NRL take control of all those aspects themselves, and do what’s in the best interests of the teams and the fans. It’s just one of those things that’s out of our control and we’ve just got to deal with it the best we can. Obviously we’d all like a perfect system and a perfect, or an equal way, of rules or decisions. But that’s life.

RC The NRL season is getting longer and more intense, there’s a lot more representative football as well – how important is player management and injury management in pacing your team’s run in the season? Teams such as Wests Tigers have fallen away, while Manly have picked up and had a winning streak.

GT It is very difficult. You want to win every game you go into, but as well you can’t play your best football at the wrong time of the year. It is a very long season, and they seem to keep extending it, which is half the problem. With the injuries and players being missing, you just can’t sustain a full team of quality players week in, week out for 26 rounds. Some players won’t get much of a rest at all. It becomes a matter of managing the highs and lows, and getting through those games that you’re struggling with, or when the players aren’t up. We’ve been fortunate enough to get through a couple of close calls this year. But, again, that’s the nature of the beast.

RC When you’ve been involved with a premiership-winning team previously, do you have to be careful you don’t just try to replicate that pattern and make sure you’re adapting?

GT You definitely have to change, because the teams around you are changing. You always have to tweak things. You can’t throw everything out but you need to tweak things every year, otherwise teams are adapting and changing to your style or other styles of play, and if you don’t move with them, then you’ll be left behind.

RC At finals time, it doesn’t look like many coaches are enjoying themselves in the box. Do you?

GT Oh, I’m sure that at the time they don’t. But when they’re grey and old and retired, I’m sure they look back with fond memories. But at the time, no, it doesn’t seem that enjoyable.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 20, 2014 as "Manly man".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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