BY CURTIS WOODWARD
The late Graham Murray walked into the Sydney City Roosters at the end of 1999 knowing he needed to win chairman Nick Politis a premiership.
Murray had found success elsewhere and Politis was hungry for some of that shine to rub off on his club. The former halfback took Illawarra to an unlikely Tooheys Cup victory in 1992 before leading the Steelers all the way to the preliminary final later in the year.
Under Murray the Hunter Mariners stunned everybody by qualifying for the 1997 World Club Challenge Final.
He also spent two seasons in England where his Leeds Rhinos qualified for the 1998 decider.
But this was Politis. His football team. His town. His money.
The Roosters hadn’t won a premiership since 1975. By the turn of the millennium, the Tricolours had one of the best rosters in the world. Brad Fittler, Adrian Lam, Luke Ricketson, Bryan Fletcher, Anthony Minichiello and Richie Barnett all called Bondi home. They also added Craig Fitzgibbon and Craig Wing to their squad for 2000 from St George Illawarra and South Sydney respectively.
You could almost speculate that Politis saw Murray as an expendable – a short-term fix for a short-term problem.
Hell, if the demigod Phil Gould couldn’t get the job done in six years, why would Uncle Nick think Murray could do any better?
As we know the rest is history.
Murray’s Roosters qualified for the grand final in his first year only to go down to a mighty Brisbane Broncos team. The Roosters ran 6th in 2001. Most chairmen would be pretty happy with that start. Not Politis. He sacked Murray two days after the ’01 season was completed. It was a brutal end for Murray but brutal genius from Politis too because they would finally win the big one twelve months later under Ricky Stuart.
It shows how cutthroat Politis can be.
Most wish for a premiership, a few expect them. Politis demands them.
Current mentor Trent Robinson is one of the best in the NRL – he’s a career coach. But the Roosters also haven’t won the title in six years.
They’ve replaced Mitchell Pearce with the legendary Cooper Cronk and added one of the game’s best fullbacks in James Tedesco. They’ll boast the Australian halfback Cronk, the New South Wales captain Boyd Cordner, Blues fullback Tedesco, back-up Kangaroos rake Jake Friend and fellow representatives in Blake Ferguson, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dylan Napa, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu.
“I couldn’t care less,” Coach Robinson told the Big Sports Breakfast recently of the pressure on his team.
“The first thing is to get your recruitment right and we feel like we’ve done that, we’ve built a strong squad.
“We’re bunkering down to develop that squad, get the combinations right and get them fit and strong for the start of the season.”
Another man that knows the pressure Robinson is under is Ricky Stuart.
Stuart won the title at the Chooks in ’02 and lost back-to-back grand finals in 2003 and 2004. Within two years, he was gone.
“The Sydney Roosters thrive on loyalty and support of each other during difficult periods,” Politis said in 2006 amid speculation Stuart’s head was on the chopping block.
“Contrary to some ill-informed comments, I re-confirm Ricky Stuart and his coaching team have our full support. We owe Ricky and the players so much for our success during 2002, 2003 and 2004. He is the best man for the job and with his passion he will turn things around on the field.”
Less than a month later Stuart was gone.
Not much seems to fluster Robinson but there isn’t a higher pressure job in the NRL than that of the Roosters head coach position.
Whether Robinson likes it or not, the expectation from most is that they have to win the premiership.
Making the grand final at the very least might appease the fans but it won’t appease Politis.
Murray and Stuart are proof of that.
Politis deals in silverware and silverware alone.