QRL article written by Rikki-Lee Arnold (Statewide Content Producer). Available on QRL website.
In this edition we talk to Wynnum Manly coach Mat Head about the changes the Seagulls are going through and his focus on helping players progress to the next level.
Former St George Illawarra playmaker Head began his coaching career in 2010, following his retirement from the NRL. He was the captain and coach of the Dapto Canaries while also offering specialist kicking coaching at the Dragons.
In 2011, he took up a similar kicking role at the Cronulla Sharks for two seasons before becoming the Balmain Tigers SG Ball head coach in 2013, winning the national final that year. He remained there until 2016, when he became coach of the Dragons’ under 20s. After one year in that role, he was then named NSW Cup head coach for the Dragons.
In 2021, he was appointed as the Dragons’ pathways coach and NRLW coach. He started to assemble the squad for his inaugural year in the NRLW, but the season was postponed due to COVID-19 and Head was named assistant coach of the NRL team about 12 weeks into the 2021 season. He remained in that role into 2022 and never had the opportunity to coach the NRLW team.
In 2023, he will take over the reins at Wynnum Manly, in what will be his first coaching job in Queensland.
Q&A with Mat Head
How did it feel to get the Wynnum Manly head coach job?
Cup in Queensland is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s as close to NRL coaching as possible, I believe. You run your own club and look after your own juniors. It’s exciting to come to this competition. NSW Cup is the same level but it’s run a lot differently. So for me, this is the next step in my progression, to come to a club like Wynnum Manly. It’s a successful club and I can learn from working with CEOs, boards, junior programs, and my own team.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I’m a players’ coach. I like to work out what their strengths are and coach to that and then hopefully help the other side of their game. My biggest point of view is helping the player get to the next level, whether that’s Cup level to NRL or NRL to Origin. I’m really determined to help the individual be a better footballer which I believe helps your team anyway.
Who would you say is your mentor or strongest influence in coaching?
I’ve been lucky to be coached by very good coaches. I still have a very strong relationship with Nathan Brown who gave me my debut jersey. I got coached by Peter Sharp, I spent one year under Wayne Bennett, worked with Steve Price … I was at Cronulla when Shane Flanagan was there and the Dragons with Paul McGregor, Ben Hornby and Dean Young. I’ve been lucky with my development but if I had a mentor, Browny would certainly be that. Others I bounce ideas off would be Ben and Dean. Obviously I’m lucky with Jon Buchanan here too (as pathways manager). To walk into a club that’s gone through a lot of changes, JB has been very, very influential. I have a good network at the moment.
What were your first impressions of the club?
From the outside, everyone speaks highly of Wynnum Manly, how successful they are and the backing of the Leagues club, the community and those things. My first impressions have been that everything is going in a good direction. It needed some new ideas which (CEO) Wayne Weekes, myself and JB have been able to bring. The board has been very supportive in everything we wanted to do. The roster has changed drastically from the past and it’s been a good change. It’s going in a direction we’d like it to. The boys are working really hard and they want to be coached. They are really working on understanding and wanting to know why we do things. I’ve really enjoyed that side of it. We have a real learning group, which shows in our age range. Our oldest player is 27. We have a playing group that want to progress their careers and I’m really enjoying that.
What are your goals for season 2023?
The end goal is you want to win a competition. We want to be top four. All those things. But the biggest thing I want is to progress players to the next level and that’s through all our grades. That’s the end goal that our club wants to strive to be. If you’re doing that, you’ll be successful on the footy field. We want to develop a club that progresses and produces better footballers.
Who within your squad will make their mark in 2023?
Shalom O’Ofou is someone I’ve signed at the club and he is in at the Broncos doing a train-and-trial. He’s one that people who watch Cup won’t know much about but he could play NRL. COVID-19 had affected his development but he’ll be good for the competition and exciting for our club. He has NRL written all over him.