'Caring' Thorn all about culture change for Reds

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

New Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn might have been an All Blacks enforcer, but his mentoring philosophy starts with caring.

Thorn fronted the media today after Queensland confirmed the club had let one-season coach Nick Stiles go, with the World Cup All Black and former Brisbane Bronco taking the reins.

The 43-year-old's grit and intimidation made him legendary over a career that only ended last year in the NRC, Thorn said a culture change was the first thing on his agenda.

"No question I’m new to the (coaching) game but probably number one thing is care," he said.

"I’m big on caring about, the team caring about each other, caring about the cause they’re trying to achieve and they’re striving for and big on caring about who you’re representing, be it the family or the fans and stuff like that.

"I’m massive on that, massive on working hard - talent’s not enough and having high standards.

"I talk about striving for excellence with all the teams I’m part of."

Excellence is something the Reds have lacked in recent years, making the Super Rugby finals just once since their title-winning run in 2012, having had three different head coaching setups in the past five years.

Richard Graham replaced the championship-winning Ewen McKenzie, before being unceremoniously sacked in round two of the 2016 season, with Stiles and Matt O'Connor stepping in for the remainder of the year.

Stiles took the sole responsibility this season, before he too was discarded, just one season in.

Thorn has only had one season as a senior head coach, leading NRC side Queensland Country this season, with that team on top of the ladder and on track to make its first NRC finals series.

Last year's undefeated Queensland U20s team was also run by Thorn, his first full-time coaching gig.

The former All Black has not shied away from introducing some gruelling sessions for his team as well, trying to instil in players his own renown toughness.

The QRU pointed to Thorn's records with these two teams as reason for his installation as coach for 2018, but his success has still laid far more in his playing days, having been a part of legendary playing cohorts at the NRL's Brisbane Broncos, the Crusaders and the All Blacks.

Thorn admitted he might be an inexperienced coach, but dismissed the notion he was too new for the gig.

Maybe the most insightful reflection on the coaching roulette at Ballymore was when Thorn was asked in his first press conference in the job whether he was prepared for the cut-throat nature of coaching.

"They say a coach is either sacked or going to be sacked," he said.

"I know I’m just fresh out of the game, I sort of hung around for a while.  but I’ve got a family, I'm a middle-aged man.

"I understand what this game is, it can be quite ruthless and sometimes you can be safe and shy away from that and sometimes you can step forward and embrace it and take it on.

"I’ll serve this club and if that’s not what this club needs at some point going forward, then I understand what that is and I’ll walk away feeling like I didn’t stand by, I gave my best effort."

QRU CEO Richard Barker said Thorn's impact on the next generation was beginning to show already, a consideration in their move to axe Stiles.

"Over the last couple of years, Brad has made an enormous contribution particularly with our younger players and we’re now starting to see a lot of the fruits of that influence from Brad with some of those players coming through to Wallaby honours," he said.

"I want to acknowledge that Nick has given a lot of his life to the QRU as a player, staff member and a coach and we are grateful for the immense contribution he has made."

Rookie coaches have had mixed success in Super Rugby, with Force coach Dave Wessels showing his wares at just 34, and becoming one of the country's most in-demand mentors, with Stiles on the other end of the spectrum, despite finding success at NRC level in recent years.

Thorn made mention of Stiles on Thursday, describing him as a 'good guy'.

"I want to make a massive show of respect to Nick Stiles who‘s been a Queensland servant, got a beautiful family . He’s a good guy."

Stiles posted on Twitter on Thursday night, after the news became official, expressing his gratitude for support on a difficult day.