Arthur Kitinas has seen a lot in his time in rugby league, from his playing days right through to his coaching career. Kitinas played just four first-grade games and has only coached 13 games in the NRL – but he knows the ins and outs of the game like a Swiss watchmaker knows a clock.
Involved in coaching rugby league for more than 25 years, Kitinas took the reins of the reigning wooden-spooners South Sydney midway through 2004, recording three wins and one draw from 19 matches. He hasn’t coached in the NRL since that ill-fated stint – but he is relishing his role in returning to develop the juniors coming through the ranks at the Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters.
“It's a different type of thing,” Kitinas tells NSWRL.com.au. “The NRL is a results-based competition whereas down here there's a little less stress on results and more about the development. Three years ago I was part of a Souths squad that had Dylan Walker, Cameron McIness and Alex Johnson, who were beaten in the semi final but those three guys went onto first grade and won the premiership (in 2014).”
Kitinas was recruited by the Rabbitohs’ arch-nemesis – the Roosters – and returned to the club he originally played one first-grade match for in 1977, taking the SG Ball head coach role this season.
“Obviously it's less stressful (as SG Ball coach) although you still have to deal with parents, the disappointments and other things at this level because not every player goes on to play first grade,” Kitinas says.
Seen as an elder statesman, passing on his wisdom and knowledge to rugby league’s next generation, it’s unlikely Kitinas will ever return to the NRL.
“I've been involved with footy for a long time and I've done my bit with first grade,” Kitinas says. “At my age, I feel like more of a father figure down here than what I do back in first grade. I wouldn't say no to it (first grade) but it's more for younger guys. I'd like to see younger coaches come through and have different types of ways they play. I'm a little bit older and coaching NRL is really becoming a younger man's game with the stresses and everything that goes with it.
“To be honest, I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I enjoyed being part of it (coaching first grade) but I don't necessarily see myself taking a head-coaching role. Maybe as an assistant or an outside help in some capacity but my job's here and I enjoy that.”
Kitinas has been involved with rugby league for most of his life, playing for the Roosters before joining Souths in 1978. Most of his playing career was spent in the lower grades with Kitinas stuck behind Rabbitohs greats George Piggins and Ken Stewart for the role of hooker.
As SG Ball coach and developing the next crop of juniors, his experiences allow him to understand and empathise with his side.
“I love it,” Kitinas says. “You like to see the genuine improvement in the kids. Sometimes, some kids take a long time to improve and some guys pick it up straight away - they understand a lot of them haven't had this level of coaching. Some improvement is rapid and some improvement takes time - every player is different.
“You get kids that come in and they haven't got a clue on how to play. They have a lot of natural talent but the game these days is a lot more structured than what it ever was. Every coach has different ways they play, with a different emphasis on things. We try to give them a bit of a taste of both worlds. If they improve, play well and go on, you like to see them do well.”
While the Roosters are stereotyped as the glitz and glamour Eastern Suburbs club of the NRL, its development ranks are met with challenges, particularly with its limited amount of local talent to pick from.
“We are a club that brings its players in later on in the week from different areas because we don't have a big base of juniors,” Kitinas says. “We do bring a lot of players in for development purposes. We also have a lot of first-year kids in our team and they tend to battle with it but they're coming through and getting better.
“It's a tough one. We've only got a couple of clubs to choose from and the difficulties we have with bringing people in. But in terms of structure and people involved in our club, it's one of the better ones. Hopefully we can get more local kids to come in and play first grade.
“The staff and organisation are terrific but we don't have that home base which makes it difficult too because sometimes we're here at Henson Park and sometimes at Matraville Sports High. You don’t really have that one camp like Souths do at Erskineville as a home base for their juniors. Having said that, we make the best with what we have and as long as the boys come through and learn a little bit, we're happy.”
Sometimes you can’t measure someone’s contribution purely by records or wins and losses. Kitinas is the epitome of commitment and loyalty – and ensuring the development of Rugby League’s future – and there's nothing more important than that.