He’s quickly becoming one of the most respected minds in developing Rugby League talent – and with his latest appointment, Jamie Feeney will ensure the continued growth of the women’s game.
Feeney, who was this morning unveiled as assistant coach of the Harvey Norman Jillaroos, has experienced unprecedented success in his role as NSWRL Performance Programs Manager this year, with all four NSWRL Pathways teams tasting victory. The NSW Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 sides defeated their Queensland counterparts as curtain-raisers for each State of Origin game, before the NSW Women’s Interstate Side broke an 18-year drought to take home the Nellie Doherty Cup. Developing stars of the future has long been a passion of Feeney’s, but his involvement with women’s Rugby League has provided the steepest learning curve.
“Two seasons ago, when I first started this job, I hadn’t had anything to do with women’s Rugby League,” Feeney tells NSWRL.com.au. “Now, having been involved for a year and a half in two of our development pathways programs with the girls, it’s about the basics.
“It’s about teaching them the finer details of the game and explaining to them why they’re doing things, not just telling them to do it.”
At the international level, Feeney will join forces with head coach Brad Donald with the aim of restoring the Jillaroos’ number one world ranking. Currently placed second by the RLIF, the Australians have defeated New Zealand just three times since their World Cup victory in 2013, with two wins coming at the Auckland Nines. While the professionalism of Women’s Rugby League has improved dramatically in NSW, Feeney knows he will need to overcome more challenges to defeat the Kiwi Ferns.
“No matter what level, you coach basics at every training session, so we’ll still be doing a lot of that and then hopefully extending into it,” Feeney says. “They haven’t got a great record against New Zealand at all and hopefully with a few changes we might be able to change that around.”
Feeney joined forces with former Melbourne Storm teammate Ben Cross in coaching the NSW Women’s side this year, emphasising the attention-to-detail coaching approach experienced together under Craig Bellamy. The development of the Jillaroos begins early, with an extended 30-player squad coming together for an initial training camp on the Gold Coast next weekend. While the next international fixtures aren’t until the Auckland Nines in February, Feeney knows it’s vital to begin building a team as soon as possible.
“You get more time together, you get more understanding of your teammates and you get to know people,” Feeney explains. “You start to build those relationships on and off the field for a long period.
“It gives these 30 players the confidence of knowing that they’re in that squad, but also gives them an idea of what needs to be done to actually make the team.”
A particularly experienced playing group will help the Jillaroos as they build towards the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup, but a changing of the guard will also be necessary in coming months and years. With the commencement of the under-18s Tarsha Gale Nines in NSW, that transition is set to become significantly smoother.
“I think there’s six of them over 30 and that’s just the forwards – Ruan (Sims), Steph Hancock, Heather Ballinger, the ones who have played in the middle for the last few years,” Feeney says. “It’s great for me now that I’m Jillaroos Assistant Coach, having a structured competition for under-18 year-olds. I think it’s going to be better for the development of all the players underneath, with that better quality coming through.”
Having proven his value in nurturing young stars before, Feeney’s appointment is a good one for the Jillaroos. The former Bulldogs and Storm second-rower, however, has brushed off suggestions of an elevation to NRL coaching in the future.
“No, I’ve been asked that a lot,” Feeney says simply. “I just love being able to do the development side of things, so I don’t see myself coaching in the NRL.”
“It’s working in junior pathways and in developing the next breed of superstars – then leaving it to the big names to go and teach them at the top level.”