Peachey fully backs the revolution
September 27 2002
David Peachey. Photo: Getty Images
It took a borrowed videotape and some quiet introspection for Sharks captain David Peachey to appreciate new coach Chris Anderson's style and vision. But now he's convinced the future is bright at Cronulla. Jacquelin Magnay reports.
Not long after coach Chris Anderson started his revolution at Cronulla, the Sharks' on-field leader David Peachey had some concerns.
So much so that in May, amid considerable internal turmoil, he sought out a videotape of the Anderson-coached Melbourne Storm's 1999 grand-final triumph in a bid to satisfy himself the revolution at the Sharks would be justified in the long term.
It did, and it was.
Back in May, the Sharks had suffered a seven-game losing streak, Anderson was publicly brawling with popular award-winning halfback Preston Campbell, and the shire crowds were booing their team.
Back then, it would have seemed a fantasy to suggest the Sharks would end up one win away from the grand final after a particularly sweet hammering of their historically dominant neighbours St George Illawarra.
It was only a few months ago that Anderson's style - a constant challenge to the players that last week evolved into a calculated psychological sledge about "choking" in the finals - appeared too radical. It seemed Cronulla's season was disappearing. More than one player questioned what was going on.
Peachey is only slightly amused that the fans are now flocking to games, the same fans who were calling for the heads of Anderson and his handpicked general, halfback Brett Kimmorley.
But in hindsight, and as the semi-final clash with the Warriors draws near, Peachey admits he too had a few worries. However, they were quickly dismissed once he switched on his VCR.
"I looked at the Melbourne tape in 1999 and I got a bit out of it," he says. "Personally, there was reassurance to know where he is coming from and his coaching style. Chris's style is to be in the game for 80 minutes, Melbourne won games they shouldn't have and the way they scored tries, it is similar to us."
Of course, it was also about adapting to Anderson's tactics, attacking with a flat straight line and quick rolling play, in contrast to previous coach John Lang's deep v-shaped offence and emphasis on forward offloads.
Peachey's fullback play was hardly affected. Instead of hanging around line-busting forwards Les Davidson and Jason Stevens, he now sticks close to Kimmorley. But other radical changes to the games of the ball-players and the centres were pivotal to Anderson's approach.
The Sharks won four of their first five games and it appeared the new coach, new style, new staff and new training methods were working.
Anderson had purposefully switched training venues from Shark Park to a TAFE complex at Loftus, and was also starting to use the nearby Sutherland Police Boys Club and the Waratah Park pool, where occasionally the players would see Ian Thorpe doing laps.
It was a fresh approach. But then, inexplicably, the wheels started falling off and the team started losing. "Things were nose-diving really quick," Peachey recalls. "The fans were turning against us and we were developing a habit of losing ... but it was not so much about Chris, it was how do we turn things around after eight years of John Lang.
"Within the team we felt we were not doing as well as we should have and it was little things letting us down."
This period coincided with the Campbell-Anderson dramas, which everyone agrees was "difficult". Peachey says there is no lingering resentment about the episode, adding that the players agreed it was the coach's call, even during the turmoil following their own private meeting.
"People were screaming for blood because Preston wasn't playing but Brett Kimmorley loves a challenge and he grabbed it with two hands and the rest is history," he says. "It is totally the coach's decision, you can't argue with the coach, you don't want to be on the bench ... but to Preston's credit he fronted it and didn't walk away and he has knuckled down and is still there. It is just that he hasn't had an opportunity come along yet."
Anderson's selection of youngsters Jye Mullane and Greg Bird as five-eighth replacements, along with the added help from Nick Graham, makes it clear that Campbell could have faced a long wait if he had stayed with the Sharks instead of signing with the Panthers for next season. But the injection of fresh, young blood has turned things around.
Kimmorley says a lot of the old Cronulla players have gone, and with them the old Sharks style.
"Chris has chosen who will stay and he has done that well," he says. Peachey reckons 1999 - the year Cronulla were minor premiers - was his best. This year he rates as a 7.5 out of 10, simply because of the roller-coaster ride.
But he wants to be able to re-evaluate his rankings once the season is finished. It may be a grand-final appearance, or victory, will turn things around even more.