Sunny change for Falcons
In the short history of the Sunshine Coast Falcons (nee Sea Eagles), it has been either feast or famine.
An association with Manly Warringah netted an Intrust Super Cup title in 2009, but since severing ties in early 2014 and reverting to their Falcons moniker, they have won just eight games in the space of two seasons.
Three weeks into the 2016 Intrust Super Cup season the Falcons sit in sixth position with two wins from three games and ahead of a challenging assignment against the PNG Hunters at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Sunday, coach Craig Ingebrigtsen has praised the new structure under CEO Chris Flannery, chairman Ashley Robinson and in conjunction with the Melbourne Storm.
After five successful years as head coach at Easts Tigers in Brisbane, Ingebrigtsen accepted a dual role that involves overseeing the Storm's Sunshine Coast-based Under 20s team in addition to coaching the Falcons.
Rather than transplanting players aligned with NRL clubs on a fly-in, fly-out basis, the Falcons under Ingebrigtsen are building from the ground up and they are setting an example for how elite pathways can be restructured in the future.
A Storm Academy for elite Sunshine Coast juniors is in its second year and the Under 20s team play all but one of their home games at Sunshine Coast Stadium, and not at AAMI Park in Melbourne prior to NRL fixtures.
“The Sunny Coast has got so much to offer in rugby league. Our junior systems are really good so we had to take that Academy system and roll it into our senior system and make it work from there,” Ingebrigtsen said.
“The Storm 20s are great and is a branding exercise, but for the Storm 20s, their next step is to play Intrust Super Cup, it's not to play NRL.
“The players are under no illusions that that's their pathway.
“Craig Bellamy and Frank Ponissi (Storm football manager) have made it very clear that if these boys perform well they will go into Intrust Super Cup.
“Then if you perform well there, that's when you have the opportunity to be an NRL player.
“I know that our model works. I know that our model from 16s to 18s through to Colts, through to Storm NYC through to Intrust Super Cup, that's a really good pathway and the community can see that that works.
“That's what we're projecting to the community and the community are buying into us at the moment.”
Given the lack of on-field success in recent years, the Falcons not only had to win back the trust of the rugby league-mad Sunshine Coast community, but convince new recruits that they would be coming to a competitive outfit with a clear pathway to the NRL.
“We've had to work really, really hard to gain the respect of the community and also to gain the respect of the players that we wanted to recruit,” Ingebrigtsen said.
“We've got the mayor involved and the local council has been absolutely unbelievably great for us.
“They're providing us with a facility and they're providing us with an opportunity to present good young men an opportunity to involve themselves at the top level. That's something that you just can't buy.
“We won one game in 2014 and seven games in 2015, and our job is to improve on that in 2016 and get the community to buy into that and be proud of their footy team.
“That's my goal, to make the community proud of us.”
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.