IT will be one of the enduring images of season 2015. An emotion-charged Manly coach, Geoff Toovey, surrounded by his entire playing squad in the middle of Brookvale Oval after one of the club’s greatest wins.
The week leading up to last Saturday’s victory over the Storm will go down as one of the worst in Sea Eagles history, and while nobody was giving Manly a chance, when you know what sort of stuff Geoff Toovey is made of, why were we surprised?
When great players go into coaching, fans quickly forget their heroic deeds on the field of play. A losing coach is a punchline.
Geoff Toovey talks to his team after the win over Melbourne Storm.Source: News Corp Australia
Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga and Ricky Stuart are examples of greats of the modern era, who at one time found themselves being savaged by fans, who quickly forget the hero when their tactics and game plans were delivering more losses than wins.
Geoff Toovey is far from a losing coach, but you’d never guess, given the treatment he has copped in the last six months.
So let’s remind ourselves, for nostalgia’s sake, who’s Geoff Toovey again?
Without exception, the toughest player of the modern era. Forget pound for pound the toughest; he was the toughest, full stop.
We talk about toughness in rugby league by saying things like, “He’d put his head where others wouldn’t dangle their feet.”
With Toovey, this is fact. I’ve witnessed it.
We were playing Manly in the hostile Newcastle Stadium atmosphere, back in ‘93.
About 20 minutes in, a loose ball is on the ground and one of our forwards rushes through and attempts to boot it ahead. As the boot was about to smash against the synthetic leather, Geoff Toovey hurled himself on the ball as if it were a grenade. Our front rower’s size 12 boot smashed into Toovs’ face instead.
Toovey was too busy to concern himself with the blood rushing down his face, he simply bounced up and raced upfield.
In 1992, same stadium, same hostile atmosphere and Manly are leading us by two points, deep into the second half.
Needing a dose of inspiration, our international front rower, Paul Harragon, comes hurtling on to the ball with the kind of a run up Dennis Lillee made famous. The crowd rise in anticipation that something big is about to happen ….it sure does.
Standing flat-footed in front of the charging Chief is the diminutive Toovey, a mismatch if I’ve ever seen one. Toovs doesn’t flinch, instead he drops suddenly and surges his right shoulder into Chief’s midsection and then proceeds to pick him up and drive him back 10 metres.
Even the home crowd gave Toovey a rapturous applause. How can you not respect that type of tough?
Geoff Toovey ploughs into Paul Harragon.Source: News Limited
On the 1995 World Cup Tour of England, leading into the quarter-finals, Toovey suddenly collapsed at training and didn’t move. He was rushed to Leeds hospital where X-rays found badly damaged discs in his neck, which were severely affecting his movement and causing him great pain. He was told to get on a plane and go home, his tour was over.
He never missed a game.
For the rest of the World Cup our halfback Andrew Johns would pack into the scrums at hooker, while Toovey played dummy half and Joey assumed the first receiver role in general play. The reason for this, Toovey’s neck was so badly damaged he simply couldn’t pack into a scrum.
Everyone who ever played with, or against Geoff Toovey, has a story about his toughness.
They say an old boxer’s face tells the story of his career, it’s no different with Geoff. Toovey took and absorbed some terrible punishment, nearly always wearing the colours of Manly.
What’s this got to do with his coaching and current predicament?
Toovey on Brookvale huddle
He deserves better. Better than the constant rumours of his sacking, better than the talk of players losing faith in his coaching and certainly better than copping verbal sprays from ex-players in media interviews.
The truth is Geoff Toovey inherited a whole heap of drama at Manly. A club, which at the time had salary cap problems looming, so large that it was inevitable that key men and club greats were going to be had to let go.
This inevitability has led to an unhappy squad and made Toovs an easy scapegoat.
Seeing Geoff Toovey standing in the middle of that player huddle on Saturday night laying down the law, reminded us all how much this bloke has under the bonnet.
As the cameras zoomed in on the player huddle, it showed Kieran Foran head down deep in thought — I wonder what he was thinking?
A battered Toovey bears the scars of putting his head on the line for Manly.Source: News Limited
On Monday, Foran revealed he’d signed a four-year deal with the Parramatta Eels, escaping the current dramas of Manly to play under former Manly assistant coach Brad Arthur.
The irony is the dysfunctionality that constantly bubbles just below the surface at Parramatta, makes Manly’s look minuscule.
There’s even talk of board members at Parramatta who still regard Daniel Anderson as the best man for the coaching job.
Making things awkward for Brad Arthur is that Anderson has been brought back to Parramatta in the role of general manager of football, something Arthur isn’t exactly thrilled about.
It won’t take much for things to start teeing off at Parra again. Only the Warriors are better at sacking coaches.
Even a grand final appearance, as Daniel Anderson enjoyed in 2009, doesn’t buy you security, Anderson was sacked the following season.
Manly have until round 13 to change Foran’s mind, and as they take on Canterbury on Friday night, more displays like last Saturday night won’t hurt the cause.