‘Broncos of the west’: How the Eels landed their man Ryles

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By Michael Chammas, July 9, 2024 — 5.45am
 

While Parramatta were doing their due diligence on Jason Ryles, the prospective coach was doing some homework of his own.

A trusted advisor crunched the numbers on the Eels roster, suggesting this would be a job that all coaches-in-waiting would stop waiting for.

 
Ryles locked in at Eels
 Jason Ryles has been confirmed as Parramatta's new head coach from 2025 on a four-year deal.
 

“Parramatta is the Broncos of the west,” his agent George Mimis said to him in his summation of the potential of the once all-conquering and once all-powerful football club.

Parramatta fitted the “right opportunity, not any opportunity” philosophy of Ryles that led him to reject St George Illawarra 12 months earlier.

 

Mimis’ comments resonated with Ryles, who after a comprehensive assessment of the Eels’ credentials, was ready to walk away from an understanding with Melbourne chairman Matt Tripp that he would one day take over from Craig Bellamy at the Storm – if he ever hangs up the clipboard.

With Parramatta intent on operating in secrecy, highlighted by their failed pursuit of Wayne Bennett in the preceding weeks, Ryles – with the blessing of Bellamy and the Storm – flew from Melbourne to meet Eels powerbrokers at the Sutherland Shire home of Parramatta chief executive Jim Sarantinos some two weeks after Brad Arthur’s demise.

It was a three-hour meet-and-greet that didn’t require Ryles to look down too regularly at the notes he’d brought as part of his meticulous preparation, rather an exercise in understanding the person beyond the Xs and Os.

That was of paramount significance to an Eels regime looking for a coach to represent what the organisation wanted to stand for – on and off the field.

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Incoming Eels coach Jason Ryles.CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

 

What the Eels wanted was a coach who would instil a culture and unity that left players feeling they were playing for a greater purpose. That nothing at the club was beneath them.

The good teams – such as Melbourne, Penrith and the Roosters – are the ones that play for the club, its members and its community, not just themselves.

However, there has long been a belief within the Parramatta organisation that a disconnect between the team and the club was holding them back.

Ryles’ homework, if as thorough as we are led to believe, would’ve discovered that well before Mitchell Moses’ post-game tirade after the Knights game a week ago highlighted it.

It’s a culture the Eels privately believe has been allowed to fester under the siege-coaching mentality of Arthur, and a realignment of the club’s culture and standards was imperative in their search for his successor.

 

Perhaps there is no one better placed to speak to that than Ryles who, throughout his career, was renowned for his prickliness and “us versus them” mantra.

In a recent chat with Ryles’ former St George Illawarra coach Nathan Brown, the veteran mentor laughed when asked if he saw a future coach in Ryles two decades ago.

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Jason Ryles during his playing days with St George Illawarra.CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

Not because the former prop didn’t have the footy IQ to transition into coaching, but because the fiery temperament of players like Ryles led to Brown losing his luscious, curly locks.

The maturity, though, is what those who know Ryles talk about when comparing the footballer to the coach.

It led to him playing a key role in helping the Storm to two premierships, exhibiting a work ethic that saw him jet off at the end of every season, of the four years he was there, to work with Eddie Jones and the England rugby union team.

What he would go on to learn as a part of a coaching résumé that also included a stint as Trent Robinson’s right-hand man at the Roosters is the importance of unity. It was music to Parramatta’s ears.

The Eels hierarchy listened as Ryles spoke to them about his coaching journey, which began in 2012 when he turned down a mid-season holiday as a player at the Storm to help Dean Pay coach the likes of Alex McKinnon, Boyd Cordner and David Klemmer in the inaugural NSW under-20s team.

It triggered a passion for coaching that would lead him to captain-coach his junior club, Wests Illawarra, while also working as a sales representative for a chemical manufacturer in Wollongong.

 

The next time the Eels met Ryles was four weeks later, inside the CBD offices of a club board member.

By that stage, the Eels had compiled a shortlist from a selection of candidates that no longer included the likes of former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and Manly assistant coach Michael Ennis.

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Parramatta interim coach Trent Barrett.CREDIT:NRL IMAGERY

There was also an informal conversation with a currently contracted NRL head coach that didn’t get off the ground. Perhaps of greatest surprise was former Eels coach Brian Smith reaching out to chairman Sean McElduff seeking a seat at the table as part of a joint pitch with renowned performance guru Hayden Knowles.

The Eels, out of respect for Smith and everything he did for the club in a previous life, listened to his pitch but didn’t believe a trip back to the future would be beneficial for a club looking to end the longest active premiership drought in the league.

The hunt was down to four. Ryles, Cronulla assistant Josh Hannay, Dragons assistant Dean Young – who had the backing of Bennett – and interim coach Trent Barrett.

The consternation that led to Ryles’ 11th-hour change of heart with the Dragons about 14 months ago centred on a belief they wouldn’t make the personnel and resource changes he believed was required to transform the club.

There were no such concerns at Parramatta. Ryles, who did not ask for any particular staff as was the case when he requested St Helens boss Mike Rush be parachuted into an overarching role at the Dragons, is comfortable in the reassurances that resources will not be a restraint at a club about to open the doors to a new centre of excellence next year.

The Eels, with their roster, pathways system and community fan base, ticked all of his boxes. Club officials, however, wanted to know if he ticked all theirs.

They wanted a coach with an emphasis on leadership and man management that would create a culture that transferred to the rest of the club. 

Jason Ryles will have a number of key decisions facing him when he starts at Parramatta.

There was also an emphasis on getting the most out of every player in the squad amid concerns over the rapid decline in form of stars who, only 18 months earlier, had led the team to a grand final.

There was an acceptance that the roster had been developed over several years to align with the game model of the previous head coach. It was a power game built on a significant investment in the forwards that has depleted the depth and talent in the back line.

Those concerns will somewhat be allayed by the forthcoming arrival of Zac Lomax, who dialled into a group call with Moses in State of Origin camp when management addressed the senior players on Monday morning.

The senior players – including Clint Gutherson, Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Dylan Brown and J’maine Hopgood, met Sarantinos and McElduff to be told of Ryles’ appointment.

 

It came 24 hours after club bosses met Barrett to inform him he wouldn’t be continuing as head coach beyond this season, before ringing Ryles with a far more positive message.

 
 

Ryles was mowing the lawn at his South Coast home enjoying some rare time with his family, who he leaves behind most weeks to work at the Storm, when Sarantinos’ call came through.

The first part of the call was interrupted by the noise of a lawnmower that wouldn’t turn off, before Sarantinos finally congratulated him on an appointment that was nutted out between the club and his agent Mimis in one afternoon.

Ryles informed Storm chairman Tripp on Sunday night, while the Eels waited until the next morning before relaying the news to the remaining unsuccessful candidates, players and staff.

 

The Broncos of the west were now Ryles’ club. When the Broncos came into the competition in 1988, they did so in the same decade the Eels won four premierships. They aspired to become the Parramatta of Brisbane. A lot can change in 36 years.

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  • Interesting article. Sounds like Ryles is a man of principle and has thought through what he wants to achieve here. I like the bit about Parra being the Broncos of the west - this is certainly within our grasp, and should be something the club and fans can aspire to.

  • What i liked from this article was the reference to the disconnect of squad to club. Make them love the club and fans, that is what we want. You can tell at Melbourne or Sydney that those players love the club and want to play for the club. Ryles will install that at Parramatta hopefully. Plus he has been involved with Melbourne's pathways lately, so he has that passion for juniors and bring them along, it will help us use our pathways to our advantage and might actually put some care into Flegg and NSW cup also.

  • It's a steep hill to climb and our rivals have a head start.I hope there's follow through when they say Ryles will be fully supported.IMO I still have no faith in Sarantinos McElduff or MoN but time will tell.

    • Coryn, that is one thing i sort of scoffed at in that McElduff says "We will give Jason all the resources he needs to succeed". So then i think to myself well if that is the case did BA have all he needed to succeed. I am in the belief that BA had a hand in where we are now and he had a bit more say in things then people let on. But even i know there was a lot lacking based on the board and MON, therefore did they have an apithany moment of realisation of their own faults?

      • This !!!

        LB two other points 

        1. we all know BA was not great at taking responsibility for mistakes - for me ( thinking about my times as a manager of a team ) that is also the person who had trouble asking for help as well - particularly before it's too late 

        2. expanding on muttmans knowledge. ... did BA give the board the feeling that as someone who has coached two chn through the younger grades ( and continued to watch them etc as a first grade coach ) that he was absolutely " all over " the up and comers ( like the great Sean Russell) and that his word and knowledge around pathways was thorough and " gospel" 

        that's my feelings around " help " - asked for and / or seen to be needed 

  • Nice piece - counts for nothing.

    Show me the results.

  • The strategy seems sound. Like everything in life, it's all about execution.
    I'm glad to hear about the disconnect between NRL side and club. It's been an issue for some time.. I always got the sense that the players were committed as a team but felt no real appreciation for the club / brand.

    • I felt it when the new stadium was opened and Brad was asked about the atmosphere. He said he didn't notice it because the coach's box windows weren't open. It was a softball question he could have answered easily and said something about how loud the crowd was. 

      • Only a self centred coach would take his shoes and socks off in celebrating himself on a new contract automatic extension once he won that qualifying final against the Cowboys 

        Could anyone imagine a great coach like Wayne or Bellamy celebrating a semi final win like that.

         

        • Bennett has been recorded dancing in the sheds multiple times after regular season wins.

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