The Coach Behind the Roosters’ Impressive Production Line
Sydney Roosters Jersey Flegg coach Anthony Barnes is on the cusp of a third premiership in five seasons, with his Under-20s side progressing past Week One of the Finals Series on Sunday afternoon.
Barnes' Roosters convincingly toppled the St George Illawarra Dragons 40-28 to set up a Semi-Final showdown against the Newcastle Knights next weekend.
Barnes previously led the Roosters' SG Ball team to the title in 2014 before clinching the National Youth Competition (Under-20s) silverware two seasons later.
However, his biggest coaching achievements go far beyond on-field glory.
Alternating between assistant and head coaching roles across a storied 25-year career at the Dragons, Storm and Roosters, Barnes has helped produce some of the game's greatest modern talents.
Current NRL players to benefit from Barnes' tutelage include a host of Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues – skipper Boyd Cordner, Latrell Mitchell, James Maloney and Angus Crichton.
The list of notable first-graders to have played in Barnes-coached teams is long: Jake Friend, Joseph Manu, Dylan Napa, Jason Nightingale, Brett and Josh Morris, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dragons greats Mark Gasnier and the late Lance Thompson, just to name a few.
In Round 18 this year alone, three of Barnes' former chargers made NRL debuts for the Roosters – Sean O'Sullivan, Paul Momirovski and Poasa Faamausili – with the trio all scoring tries.
One of Barnes' brightest protégés is boom Roosters NRL lock Victor Radley. Speaking with NSWRL.com.au, Radley – who was a member of the 2016 National Youth Competition team– was full of praise for his past coach.
"It was a good time [playing under Barnes]. As I finished playing SG Ball – I would've been about 17 years old – I went straight up to the Under-20s with Barnes as coach," Radley says.
"I got thrown in probably halfway through that year and we ended up winning the comp. It was a pretty hectic year. The year after I was up with first-grade but I still had a bit to do with him.
"He's a really good bloke. He helped me become a better person as well as a footballer. He showed me the way there."
Radley went on to represent the NSW Under-20s and make his first-grade debut in 2017. He now stands among the NRL's most promising forwards and believes Barnes has contributed to his meteoric rise.
"He helped me progress a fair bit. I'm not sure I can compare it to different coaches or anything like that, but he's taught me a hell of a lot," Radley says.
"I ended up playing first-grade that next year... He made it really easy for me to go up through the ranks.
"The thing [Barnes stressed] that sticks with me is just knowing why you're there in the first place. When I first got my crack at 20s, [his philosophy was] once you're there, don't change anything.
"It's really ground into you to remember why you're here and what got you here and just to stick at it. You obviously learn new things and become a better player but [it's important] to have that in the back of your mind."
For Barnes, assisting budding players to reach the top level is a source of immense satisfaction.
"That's the reason you do it, more than anything," Barnes said. "They're the good moments when we've got somebody making their NRL debut.
"Whether it was Mark Gasnier or Lance Thompson, all those blokes that I coached in the past – there's been a lot of them.
"It is the biggest kick that coaches get. It's what drives me to do it – making sure every player takes their opportunities."
While many coaches would be envious of Barnes' astounding knack for creating footballers of the highest calibre, he humbly played down the accolades.
"We do get some good players; I've been lucky to be at good clubs. Sometimes those players are always going to be good [at NRL level]," Barnes said.
"Not all of them; some of them come from nowhere. But it is about teaching them the basic skills, [along with] hard work, trying to get the most out of the players and being honest with them.
"If I've got 40 kids, I like to give them all the same amount of time whether they're contracted or not."
In passing down advice to his squads, Barnes has himself learned from the finest. He's plied his trade alongside master coaches such as Craig Bellamy, Brian Smith, Paul Green, Mick Potter, Nathan Brown, Peter O'Sullivan, David Waite, Max Ninness and Trent Robinson.
He nominated Waite, Smith, O'Sullivan, Robinson and the late Ninness as particularly influential figures.
"Obviously, you learn a bit from each coach ... Being under coaches like 'Smithy', 'Waitey' and Max Ninness and spending a bit of time with Bellamy, you learn their processes."
It seems that one process Barnes has learned extremely well is winning.
On top of the aforementioned junior rep titles at the Roosters, he was also the assistant coach in the Dragons' 2005 Jersey Flegg premiership.
Yet despite all of his success, Barnes remains somewhat unheralded – at least to outsiders.
But within Roosters headquarters, Radley is adamant that everyone holds Barnes in the highest regard.
"He might be underrated from an outside perspective, but he's valued pretty highly at the Roosters," Radley said.
"I think 'Robbo' [Trent Robinson] and everyone knows the work he does down there. He's a bloody good coach."