Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon during Sydney Roosters training at Moore Park, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello
Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon during Sydney Roosters training at Moore Park, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello

Are Roosters hiding another great NRL coach?

Sydney Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon is considered the No.1 pick when it comes to the newest wave of young footy minds.

Problem is, how does your club get him out of Bondi Junction?

With pressure mounting on no less than six NRL head coaches, 43-year-old Fitzgibbon has quietly risen up to become the man many now consider the best footy brain among those not currently employed in a top job.

Despite there being a host of coaches with NRL experience available - among them Shane Flanagan, Dave Furner, Nathan Brown and Anthony Griffin - it is understood many club boards would prefer a move to the Generation Next of coaches.

Enter Fitzgibbon.

 

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Fitzgibbon has played a crucial role in the Roosters back-to-back premierships. Picture by Brett Costello.
Fitzgibbon has played a crucial role in the Roosters back-to-back premierships. Picture by Brett Costello.

Already, the 2002 Roosters premiership hero holds a key role with the Tricolours, where the defensive specialist has helped secure back-to-back titles for head coach Trent Robinson.

NSW Origin players also rate the retired backrower as a key component of their brains trust led by head coach Brad Fittler.

Blues players say that apart from engaging well - and providing game plans that are easily digested - Fitzgibbon teaches accountability, accepts "no bullshit" and demands discipline.

The former backrower has also been described as a strong man manager and "people person", boasting the type of personality that makes young men both respect and want to play for him.

Fitzgibbon's ongoing rise at both NRL and Origin level comes at a time when a host of head coaches are under increasing pressure to hold their jobs, despite the season being just six rounds old.

Already this week, Warriors coach Stephen Kearney was a shock axing after his side lost to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, their fourth in six games.

Could Fitzgibbon be the next great NRL coach. Picture by Brett Costello.
Could Fitzgibbon be the next great NRL coach. Picture by Brett Costello.

Others in the spotlight include Paul McGregor (St George Illawarra), Dean Pay (Canterbury-Bankstown), John Morris (Cronulla) and Paul Green (North Queensland).

Elsewhere, rookie NRL coach Justin Holbrook sits last in his first season with Gold Coast, while Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold is slumped in 14th with a side hyped early on as a top four contender.

While Fitzgibbon has previously been sounded out on several occasions about taking NRL roles, he has so far refused them to stay on as Robinson's right hand man.

It is understood there are only a small number of roles he would consider taking.

However, with many clubs now looking toward the next wave of young coaches, the Wollongong native is set to once again find himself the target of interested club CEOs.

It follows the success of Robinson at the Roosters, while another of his close mates, Adam O'Brien, is also enjoying success in his first year with a Newcastle side currently in second spot.

Fitzgibbon was a legend as a player. Picture by Brett Costello.
Fitzgibbon was a legend as a player. Picture by Brett Costello.

Other assistants considered NRL ready include Jason Ryles (Melbourne) and Cameron Ciraldo (Penrith), while South Sydney's Jason Demetriou will also take over from Wayne Bennett next year.

When Nathan Brown was axed by the Knights at the end of 2019, Fitzgibbon was immediately thrust up among the genuine contenders.

The former backrower quickly withdrew however, leading to speculation he would prefer to wait on opportunities at bigger clubs - most notably, the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Fitzgibbon debuted for the Illawarra Steelers in 1998, and then played a season with the merged St George Illawarra venture before heading off for what would be 10 years with the Roosters.

Originally published as Are Roosters hiding another great NRL coach?


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