Michael Cheika: Why I stayed

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Michael Cheika only asks of his players what he asks of himself.

Whether it’s punishing runs on the Coogee Stairs, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, packing down in a scrum at training or putting faith in the Wallabies cause, Cheika is there.

The Wallabies coach has extended his contract until the end of 2019, taking his Wallabies tenure to more than five seasons, one of the longest stints his career, along with his time at Irish club Leinster.

Michael Cheika coaching for Leinster back in 2006. Photo: Getty Images

Having his future inked three years in advance is a far cry from his inception into the job, which came in a whirlwind couple of days, but he says he had no hesitation.

“I’m happy, I know where we’re going, I’ve got the opportunity to keep doing this for another few years,” he says.

“There was no reason for me not to want to do that.

“It’s a dream and an honour to be coaching Australia so it’s not like you need reasons to do it.

“For me at least more just about working out a few things around internal logistics about how it was .”

Cheika never played for the Wallabies, but he has returned a much-espoused passion to the national team.

His philosophy is not a heavily guarded secret - it’s been shared with almost every Super Rugby player in Australia, because he feels they all play a part.

It’s well known that when Cheika came into the Wallabies coaching ranks he ridded the team of one tradition, where players were given two jerseys per game, one to give away and one to keep.

Under his reign they have just one – with which to do whatever they choose.

Moves like this are symbolic of Cheika’s emphasis on the psychological elements of a brutally physical game, as much as the latter is a hallmark of his side.

Cheika leads the charge at training. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

“I feel that’s something as a player, I probably would’ve liked to know more about and maybe I would have fulfilled my own potential a bit more,” he said.

“The goal for players is they maximise their potential. They’ve all got so much talent, at the top level in particular and how they maximise that is really between the ears.

“There’s a lot of learning and a lot of that’s between the ears and I really enjoy it.

“I’m learning about myself and everything I talk to them about in a mental space is something I need to do as well.

“We’re learning to understand it’s (mentality) a powerful weapon. You never go totally, ‘this is how it’s gotta be’, it’s different for every single person.

“Different people will take things differently, you can’t read it from a book.”

Rather than embracing sameness, Cheika has created unity in a diverse range of characters, and helping them understand each other.

It’s more than just the squad that feels the impact, backrower Scott Fardy says.

“It’s rare to find a guy so invested in his players,” he said.

Michael Cheika was king of the kids at his the announcement of his re-signing. Photo: Getty Images

“He does a great job at it and it’s great for all the families involved. They appreciate the support that they get when he’s been coach.

“He knows how to tap into individuals to do their bit for the team and get everyone on the same page and it’s a special quality.”

Lock Kane Douglas has played the best rugby of his career under Cheika, at the Waratahs and Wallabies, and says the national coach brings everyone’s motivations to the fore.

“I do play for my family, my friends, my teammates but it’s about talking about it and not being afraid to write it down on a piece of paper and show your teammates who you are,” he said.

“Everyone’s more comfortable with each other, knows why everyone else plays the game, what drives them.

“It breaks down the walls and as much as you might know how someone plays, knowing what makes them tick away from footy can help you be a tighter team.”

Cheika wards against complacency in his teams, by putting himself in sessions and holding selection cards close to his chest.

“He hates naming the team early in the week,” Douglas says.

“Some weeks he’d tell the boys who was in the starting XV but leave it a couple of days before he named the bench.

“I think sometimes that makes boys train a little bit harder.

“He still wants the same thing at the national level as in Super Rugby - running hard, tackling hard, getting your head stuck in places you don’t really want to go but the people in the other team don’t want to do that either.

“It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Cheika has built a tight bond with his players. Photo: Getty Images

As he now looks towards the 2019 World Cup, Cheika says his approach won’t change but he will continue to evolve, take risks and keep his eye on the bigger picture.

“Like everyone I’ve got to get a better balance in how I do things and be very innovative,” he says.

“I don’t think we have the luxury where we are in our sporting landscape to sit down.

“We need to continually innovate.

“All the innovation won’t be a success but we need to believe strongly in the people and what we’re doing and take a few risks, a few short-term risks, to get long term gains.”

While he doesn’t have regrets, Cheika has constant development in his sights.

“Experience is the best teacher the idea is to learn from the experiences and try and improve yourself and that’s the goal

“That’s what I’d like to try and do myself (get better every day). I don’t know if I’m always successful.

“It’s something I’ve learned later in life and maybe I want to catch up on when I didn’t get to do it when I was a bit younger.”

Cheika wants his players to be better every day, because he demands it of himself.