ARTICLE ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD.
WRITTEN BY: ANDREW WEBSTER
Two weeks before the first round of the NRL season, Bradley Charles Stubbs knocked on the door of the Roosters offices at Moore Park looking for coach Trent Robinson.
Robinson wasn’t there. He was over the road at training. Stubbs walked over and watched from a distance for an hour or so and then, when the session was complete, approached the coach and shook his hand.
“How would you like a few ‘one-percenters’ on how to win the grand final this season?” Stubbs asked Robinson.
Two hours later, the pair were still standing in the twilight gloom of the car park, talking endlessly about the philosophies and methodology that can help teams climb their respective sporting Everests.
You may not have heard much about Stubbs but you will know of the successful coaches and teams he’s been involved with.
He worked with Michael Maguire at Souths in 2014 when they won the premiership. Stubbs was so confident about the Bunnies winning throughout that season he made a pact with Maguire mid-season that if they didn’t win the premiership he would cut off his pinkie finger, just to get Maguire to believe in him. Maguire made the pledge, too.
He then started working with Graham Arnold at Sydney FC and they ended up losing three matches in two years as "Arnie" lapped up Stubbs' advice about predicting scorelines in advance — "If your belief is strong, you can manifest it" — and also predict when a player would be injured before a match had started simply because of the player's "energy".
He worked with Michael Cheika at the Wallabies and they came within a whisker of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup, losing the final to New Zealand.
That's right: New Zealand. Not the All Blacks. We'll get to that in a minute.
Then Stubbs started working with Eddie Jones and the English rugby team and they were so successful, as Jones’ sides won the Six Nations and then beat Cheika’s Wallabies in three Tests in Australia, the English press dubbed Stubbs “the coach whisperer”.
“I’m the one-percenter man,” Stubbs, who rarely gives interviews, told Faifax Media. “I’m a ‘high-performance, expect-to-win' coach. I teach people how to win before the event. I look at everything from how a team trains to how they perform in the media. And I could see the energy was all scattered. I teach them how to accumulate it all together. I visualise with how I am going work with people."
The Roosters have kept Stubbs’ involvement a closely guarded secret, although he was in Robinson’s coach’s box in their thumping win over St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Afterwards, Robinson fronted the obligatory post-match media conference and once again gave away very little to reporters, who he has treated like the enemy this season. It is in contrast to his genial and approachable nature of the past. Now we know why.
What the coach says publicly is one of the cornerstones of Stubbs’ philosophy. “It’s all about us: the next training session, the next weights session,” Stubbs said. "You never talk about the opposition. Because I’ve studied the human mind for over 30 years, there are such things as 'power words' that the subconscious mind reacts to.
“People thought Arnie [Arnold] was arrogant whenever he did press conferences for Sydney FC. He was just talking about winning, that’s all.”
Words like “hope”, “want” and “maybe” are banned.
He instructed Arnold to refer to Sydney FC arch rivals Melbourne Victory simply as “Melbourne”. He did something similar with Cheika. The famous All Blacks were simply referred to as “New Zealand”.
Arnold had suggested in the off-season that Robinson talk to Stubbs. The Roosters coach did not take up Stubbs’ offer until round six after his side had three wins and three losses. Since then, they’ve only lost three matches — although Stubbs insists he's merely giving advice from the edges and not the reason for the Roosters’ firming into premiership favouritism with the Melbourne Storm.
Indeed, he's the unrecognisable face mixing among the players in the dressing-room before matches, mentioning a word here or there to a player, before heading out onto the field for the warm-up, jotting down notes in his orange pad.
He runs an eye over media conferences and interviews, including the players' social media. He will then send through a report to Robinson about the “one-percenters” where the Roosters can improve. That might win them a grand final.
Indeed, some of it sounds likes sports psychobabble. Perhaps the Roosters are firing because $1million-a-season halfback Cooper Cronk is finally syncing with $1million-a-season fullback James Tedesco, and their forwards are running harder and straighter, just as they did against the Dragons.
But something's working.
Stubbs told Robinson that it takes 21 days to form a habit, 90 days to lock it in. On exactly the 90th day of Stubbs working with the tri-colours, the Roosters flogged Manly 56-24.
Again, that might have more to do with Manly’s 33 missed tackles than the Roosters’ “one-percenters”. Or one Latrell Mitchell. Stubbs has a story to tell himself, having been an emerging professional surfer who grew up in housing commission in Maroubra before a major car accident led to two nervous breakdowns.
When this column contacted Stubbs on Monday for comment about his work with the Roosters, he was initially cautious.
"From my understanding, the Roosters are slowly improving with lots of work still to do," he said.
Trent Robinson couldn’t have said it better himself.