Bombers coach has the right moves | PHOTOS

SOME might think being part of a coaching team that oversaw a 113-point win would not be that stressful a job, that it would be an "easy afternoon at the office".

But that was nowhere near the reality that Zane Littlejohn and his team experienced when they steered North Launceston to a State League win over the Kingborough-based Tigers last Saturday at Aurora Stadium.

The one thing that is cemented in your brain after spending some time with these men in their working environment, is that they are the most passionate and intense supporters going around.

For all intents and purposes, on match day, they are supporters, they just have the capability to make the moves on the ground and give the feedback that the rest of us can only offer from the grandstands or loungeroom.

From the outside looking in, this did not seem like that big a game.

The visiting Tigers are on the bottom of the ladder, while North Launceston is in the top four.

But, the Bombers are keen to bounce back - on the scoreboard and in attitude - after a 100-point-plus loss against Clarence the previous week.

Effort is the main word on the whiteboard, the one trait Littlejohn is keen to see on the day. Forget skills, intent is the focus for his boys.

The other word of the day and for the rest of the season, is left.

This is a "crossroads" game for the Bombers, and they must decide which way they want to go, with left the chosen direction towards State League respectability.

Littlejohn and his coaching team of Paul Holmes, Adrian Smith, Will Tatchell and Anthony Loone, arrive at Aurora Stadium before 11am.

Once the players arrive, they are split into forward and defensive groups under the guidance of Tatchell and Holmes.

The quarter-time pep talk. Picture: Scott Gelston

The quarter-time pep talk. Picture: Scott Gelston

Positioning and aggression is the key message for defenders, while pressure and respect for opponents is key for those in the front half.

Littlejohn then addresses the entire group, reinforcing the message of "effort", where the key statistical markers for the day are decided.

Tackles, blocks, opposition marks in space, handballs received at pace and contested possession are the factors that the group decides will determine if it can achieve the effort required.

For Littlejohn, a win will not mean much if they cannot come out on top in these statistics.

The senior coach's planning is obviously done during the week, making prematch the most nerve- racking.

"Once we've had our meetings and it is over to them, that is the time when I really miss playing because there is nothing else I can really do," Littlejohn said.

"But I've got to have confidence in the group and the confidence in what we've got in place and make sure the boys understand their roles really well.

"I couldn't really care less about the result today, I just want effort and if we have that effort, the result will take care of itself."

The players head onto the ground to do their warm-up at three-quarter-time in the Development League match, before Loone takes a midfield meeting that involves both forwards and defenders.

The players get into their gear and warm-up in the rooms, before Littlejohn has one final "rev up" at the top of the race about the importance of this contest.

In an effort to change things, he decides to do this on the ground this week, rather than in the rooms.

The battle begins.

Littlejohn, who is into his third season as senior coach, usually coaches from the bench, but with his entire coaching staff on hand, decides to spend the first 20 minutes in the box before heading down to the ground.

You realise the emotion invested in the opening 30 seconds, and how vocal and angry a senior coach can get, when one of his players does not quite match-up correctly.

This is his way, but one not unique in coaching.

His assistants are his extra eyes and ears, sounding boards for ideas, as they focus on their own individual areas.

The Bombers' lack of work-rate is a topic of conversation, and as soon as a player is dragged they are put straight on the phone to see if they know why.

That word effort, and a lack of it, is mentioned as the Tigers start well, but the Bombers are still able to get them on the scoreboard.

Being one step ahead of the play, the coaching group talks through plays as they should go down, and you can hear the disappointment in their voice when it does not.

Coaching from the sidelines. Picture: Scott Gelston

Coaching from the sidelines. Picture: Scott Gelston

But it is not all negative, when a player does well, he ensures the message of positive reinforcement is sent out.

At quarter-time, and a 41-point lead, the main message is to keep it simple, don't lairise and value possession.

The second quarter is even tougher for the coaches, with the Bombers only able to add 2.9.

The term "showboating" is thrown around to the point that they have to send the most simplistic of messages to their forwards: "kick goals".

A general lack of respect for their opponent is the accusation thrown at the players.

At half-time the Bombers lead 11.13 (79) to 4.2 (26), but the players get a rude shock when the coach gives them a "bake", criticising their inability to convert, lack of effort and respect.

Percentage will be important for this group come finals, and this game seems to be a missed opportunity for the group, despite the win.

In his own words, Littlejohn couldn't "hack it" in the box and returned to his more comfortable coaching position on the bench in the second half, swapping places with forward- development coach Brett Mansell.

Without him in the box, things are quieter, but the same philosophy of being each other's eyes and ears is apparent.

The one issue this quarter is not based on skills or structure - it is a lack of a celebration.

When a goal is kicked (they would kick 6.10 for the term) there is no energy and no support, barely a shaking of hands, an area that the coaches believe they need to work on.

However, efforts like the commitment shown by second- gamer Reuben Hoekstra are celebrated.

On the bench, Littlejohn is more comfortable.

Being able to eyeball his players and give them direct feedback is something he prefers, and the feeling is mutual with his charges.

His vocal ways are more effective, shouting instructions to players to man up or congratulating them on the other side of the ground, which would also be intimidating for the opposition.

The siren sounds on the 23.26 (164) to 8.3 (51) win, but the feeling is that it should have been of greater proportions.

After the players sing the club song, Littlejohn lets them know this.

The coaches then spend some time together assessing the game, before Littlejohn addresses the group one final time for the day, which is more of a feedback session with the players joining in, as well as looking forward to the next week.

Littlejohn addresses his troops after the game. Picture: Alex Fair

Littlejohn addresses his troops after the game. Picture: Alex Fair

"It was a pleasing win, but we are realists and we know you don't win finals at this time of year, you set them up," he said.

"We got the four points which was really pleasing, but how we went about it at times was disappointing, but you are going to have that with the group that we've got, which is immature for this level.

"What I expect to see is guys at least trying to execute what they have been asked to do, what gets me is what they don't do what we ask and they go completely opposite to what we are trying to do.

"I think we as coaches were ahead of the game, they tried to push a plus one early on us and then we decided to man-it-up.

"I did react a little at times, and you do get frustrated, which is why I like being on the bench, because my frustration can come onto the players, and they can react to that.

"When they don't put in that effort and just lope, that's when it can be a little bit frustrating.

"I'd give us a six or seven out of 10 for today."

And on that word effort, the Bombers won those stats 127-50.


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