Interim Cronulla coach John Morris. Picture: Toby Zerna
Interim Cronulla coach John Morris. Picture: Toby Zerna

How Sheens’ advice inspired Morris

John Morris played the bulk of his 300-game NRL career hanging onto one piece of advice from coaching veteran Tim Sheens.

He told Morris "if you could think like a coach it would help you as a player". It may have been a throwaway line from the then Tigers mentor but it not only helped Morris carve out a successful playing career but helped shape his path to becoming an NRL coach.

Morris, 38, was given the reins earlier this year and has put his hand up to replace Shane Flanagan who quit Cronulla last week. Cameron Ciraldo and Morris are the frontrunners to land the Sharks job while Justin Holbrook and Trent Barrett remain in the mix.

While Morris may be just weeks into his life as an NRL head coach, he has been building to this moment for more than a decade.

Morris carved out a successful playing career with stints at Newcastle, Parramatta, Wests Tigers and eventually the Sharks. Along the way he played 117 consecutive NRL games before retiring because of a serious neck injury during the 2014 season.

Former Cronulla teammate Luke Lewis has a unique understanding of Morris. The duo played alongside each other at the Sharks before Lewis was coached by Morris when he was part of Flanagan's NRL coaching staff last year.

"When we were playing we'd sit down to do our video sessions," Lewis said. "Flanno (Flanagan) would be running it but Bomber (Morris) would pick up a few things the coaching staff weren't looking at and give us tips.

"There was this one game when we were playing Melbourne. Bomber tossed up during the week about a set move Melbourne had with Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. Sure enough about the 30th minute they put it on.

"If he didn't tip us up on it they would've got us. That's when I knew he knew exactly what was going on in the game. I loved defending next to him. He was always talking and his fitness levels were amazing. Bomber would do research and he would pick up a few things the coaching staff weren't looking at. He would give his tips.

"He was another coach on the field."

 

John Morris and Luke Lewis during their time at Cronulla. Picture: Brett Costello
John Morris and Luke Lewis during their time at Cronulla. Picture: Brett Costello

By the time Morris joined the Sharks in 2010 he was already a qualified PE teacher. He went on to gain a masters degree in coaching and worked with Cronulla's junior pathways before joining the NRL ranks last year where he ran the team's attack.

"He and Mick Ennis were the best teammates when it came to preparation," Lewis said. "He'll be very smart and very relaxed coach. He realises and understands you do all your work during the week and that's all you can do.

"He has all the trust in the players. I think he is ready for the opportunity. He won't let anyone down.

"I'm excited to watch him and see how he goes as much as it's disappointing with what has happened with Flanno."

Morris has stepped up in Flanagan's absence before during the premiership-winning coach's 2014 suspension where the former utility spent a brief time as an NRL assistant coach when injury cut-short his season.

 

Coach John Morris (R) chats with recruit Josh Morris. Picture: Toby Zerna
Coach John Morris (R) chats with recruit Josh Morris. Picture: Toby Zerna

If Morris is given the role he will return home to coach his first NRL game when the Sharks play Newcastle in round one.

A Scone-product, Morris was developed in the Knights system before making his NRL debut for the club in 2001. Morris spent the bulk of his 14-year-career switching between the halves and hooker but former Newcastle coach Michael Hagan - who handed Morris his debut - even threw him onto the wing in the early stages of his career. It is this versatility which Hagan said will help Morris with coaching obstacles.

"With head coaching you need to be adaptable to different situations," Hagan said. "Head coaching is all about that. You have to have a little bit of flexibility and change things on the run. He has had that during his playing career.

"He was always dedicated and looked after himself. The underlying thing he was always coachable, well liked and low maintenance."