Rugby league: Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen responds to shock NRL switch, claims he won’t poach top talent from NZ

Steve Hansen is downplaying his surprise cross-code switch and promising he will play no role in luring leading New Zealand rugby talent to join the Bulldogs.

Hansen’s initial six-month contract with the glamour Sydney NRL club as a high performance consultant caught everyone off guard.

The World Cup-winning coach, who fashioned an 86 per cent win record during his eight-year tenure with the All Blacks before signing off following the semifinal defeat in Japan last year, remains committed to his 12-week role as director of rugby with Toyota Verblitz.

With the Kieran Read-captained Toyota side in Japan, Hansen is guiding head coach Simon Cron. Despite the widespread interest garnered from his change of code Hansen says the role mentoring Trent Barrett carries many similarities.

Hansen first met Barrett when he spent two tests in camp with the All Blacks two years ago. The pair remained in touch, and when Barrett asked Hansen to come on board as he attempts to rebuild the club which narrowly avoided the wooden spoon this season, he agreed to make the switch.

“He approached me about three or four months ago asking if I would be happy to help him out as a backboard. We worked our way through what he was after and how we could do it under the conditions of Covid and the fact I’m already doing something at Toyota Verblitz which is similar. Once we got to that we agreed to it,” Hansen said.

“He’s the head coach, he’ll be doing all the coaching, all I’ll be doing is helping with how he goes about doing those things. A high performance environment is one I’ve been in for the past 19 years with Wales and the All Blacks so I have a little bit of insight into that and he wants to be able to pick my brains about creating that.

“He wants to create an environment where his athletes can go out and perform well and the club, the fans can be proud of that. That’s no different to any high performance environment and what the All Blacks tried to do every time they got together.”

Hansen is keen to set the record straight, however, after Bulldogs chief executive Andrew Hill suggested he would be involved in recruitment for next year and could even entice rugby union players to the club.

“I won’t have anything to do with recruitment because I don’t see that as my role. At the end of the day I’m not interested in taking players out of New Zealand who could be All Blacks. I want the All Blacks to be great so I won’t be head hunting All Blacks or any other player from New Zealand.

“My job will be to help the players that are there to make that environment as good as we possibly can, and if we can do that then we’ve got a chance of winning stuff and that’s what we all want.”

Hansen’s affinity with rugby league is largely personality-based in that he’s followed coaches he’s met over time. Early in his career, Hansen used legendary league mentor Wayne Bennett as a sounding board for ideas. The two coaches in this year’s NRL Premiership grand final, Craig Bellamy and Ivan Cleary, spent time with the All Blacks. So, too, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart.

On the flipside, union guru Wayne Smith has made many trips to the Storm and former Kangaroos prop turned Storm coach Jason Ryles is on the move to join England’s coaching staff alongside Eddie Jones.

“At the end of the day it’s not about it being league. Everyone has got caught up in that. It’s more about I’m going to help another coach and be the support mechanism for him to be the best he can be. He’s asked me to do that and I’ve got a lot of time for him so I’ve got no issue with doing it.

“It’s always refreshing when you’re working with new people. It’s still a lot of responsibility but it’s not like being in charge yourself.

“To see the growth of other people and their coaching careers is just like watching a player get better so it’s rewarding and I enjoy it.”

Hansen believes many of the pillars in cultivating successful high performance environments are the same regardless of the sport.

Such sharing of ideas is evident with Highlanders head coach Tony Brown attempting to glean knowledge from highly-respected Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua while her side takes on England in a three-test series in Hamilton this week.

“You’ve got to be able to have everyone on the same page so getting your players, management, coaching group, the club itself aligned gives you that.

“Understanding your history and legacy and what does that means and what responsibility you have to that.

“And it’s about having a common goal, a purpose, that creates the want to get out of bed in morning to do the job. That is the ability to put the team first as opposed to yourself. Most very good environments have those things.”

The Bulldogs have long been a powerhouse NRL club, winning eight titles, the last in 2004, and losing the finale on 10 other occasions. Last season, however, they won three of 20 games after parting ways with Dean Pay midway through their campaign, narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon despite finishing on the same points as the Broncos.

The club has strong Kiwi connections with Daryl Halligan, Matt Utai, John Timu, Sonny Bill Williams, Roy Asotasi, Nigel Vagana, Frank Pritchard and Kieran Foran among those to don the blue and white.

Barrett, Hansen and everyone involved now face a challenging task rebuilding the proud club to its former status.

“The important part is having the communication so we can do that through Zoom. With today’s technology you can go through the training runs and get all the footage. You can do all of that stuff without actually being there, but ideally you want to get there and meet everyone eventually.”

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