As far as rugby league coaches go, Western Suburbs Magpies SG Ball mentor John McPherson immediately comes across as old-school; he is reserved, spends plenty of time discussing his side’s discipline and appears to have dedicated a large part of his life to nurturing young footballing talent. The Magpies’ coaching hierarchy, however, is far from traditional – McPherson and trainer Mark Barnes share the duties equally.
It’s a system not often seen at any level in the sport – Ipswich Jets coaches Ben and Shane Walker are a well-known exception – so it’s easy to see how the presence of two coaches could be somewhat confusing for 18-year-olds throughout a three-month SG Ball season. As McPherson explains, his involvement with the players over a number of years helps to prevent that issue.
“There’s quite a few players in this SG Ball squad that I coached in Harold Matthews a few years ago and there’s a few boys here that I know quite well from getting around the grounds week in, week out,” McPherson tells NSWRL.com.au. “I’m fortunate enough to see some of these guys play some club footy and see what they’re like without the limelight pressure. It gives them a little bit of continuity in terms of relationship building; it’s a good thing too that you get their trust.”
McPherson has been around junior representative football long enough to know how to best develop his players; with 15 years’ experience in total, he started at the Magpies in 2007 and apart from a brief stint at the South Western Sydney Academy of Sport, he has coached the under-16s and under-18s at Wests ever since. He knows all too well how much time is needed to earn coaching success, leading him to share the role with Barnes for the 2016 season.
“Because of professional pressures outside with the club, we decided we’d have a dual role. At the moment I suppose in that dual role I’m still the Head Coach, but I’ve always seen Mark as nothing more than my equal. Whether both names are there or one name is there, it makes no difference.”
Following a Round 1 bye, Western Suburbs were thrashed 66-4 by a rampant Cronulla side and both coaches had a big task to prevent their season from ending before it had even started. With that in mind, McPherson couldn’t hide his pride moments after watching his side defeat the previously undefeated Bulldogs in Round 3.
“It was important for us to get back to basics and to really focus on the week ahead, rather than sit back and think about the weekend’s loss,” McPherson recalled. “The mood in the camp was extremely high considering the previous weekend and it showed in today’s game – the character in this team and their will to win.”
The Magpies face an even tougher ask next week, with an away trip to the table-topping Canberra Raiders. With McPherson and Barnes at the helm, however, the side won’t go down through lack of belief.
Catch Jamie's Jury, a weekly wrap of everything Junior Rep-related, hosted by Jamie Feeney, each week on www.NSWRL.com.au. Click here and here for the latest Harold Matthews and SG Ball extended highlights packages.