Fitness drills and frame-by-frame reviews will always have their place but for Adrian Lam, the real key to being a successful coach lies in building strong relationships.
Lam, who is serving as an assistant to Mal Meninga with the Gallagher Australian Kangaroos, guided the unheralded Leigh Leopards to a rare Challenge Cup title in 2023 and also took home his second Super League coach of the year award in four seasons.
“Leigh are a small town within the Wigan borough, so the Wigan club are obviously the one that everyone looks towards," Lam told NRL.com.
"One of the commentators said ‘little old Leigh’, which really hasn't had much to cheer about in recent times, so it was a massive achievement for the town and everyone involved.
“It was unbelievable at Wembley too, just a massive honour.
“I think a lot of the people still supporting rugby league from the older era see the Challenge Cup as more important than the Super League grand final because it's one that's been around longer.
"I remember hopping on the open-top bus on the way back home the day after the final and there was about 70,000 people all the way into town.
“It was absolutely massive and I’m just grateful that the fans have had something to cheer about… I think they've been promoted three times in the Super League and each time they've been promoted, they've had automatic relegation the next year.
"That didn't happen for us this year obviously, we made the top five and it was another big achievement. We were breaking a lot of records along the way too, so it's been a massive year.”
That feat was made even more special as he had his son Lachlan, the team’s halfback, play an integral role in the win, kicking the winning field goal in extra-time.
Just like his father was, Lachlan is a star half for the Kumuls and this week is in camp himself preparing for his own Pacific Championships match in PNG, with the home side taking on the Fiji Bati on Sunday.
After claiming player of the match honours in the Challenge Cup triumph, Lam thinks that his son’s performances in both the Super League and for the Kumuls will see him return to the NRL in the not-too-distant future.
“I've coached him ever since he was six years old and we've had so many moments like that where we were on the other end of it, so everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you're so lucky that he kicked that goal’, but I was, ‘well, not really’ because we've suffered so much too along the way," Lam said.
Match: PNG Kumuls v Fiji Bati
Week 3 -
Venue: Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby
"But we've never given up and it's great to have him with that experience from the Roosters.
“He's played some amazing footy himself over there this year, he's playing for Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Championships as well and hopefully he dominates that.
“[Since Mal and I were up there before the 2013 Rugby League World Cup] there's been a lot of progression and now there's a lot more young PNG players around the world that have certainly helped them grow and they've got a really good team.
Every try from PNG v Cook Islands
“I think they'll win that. Lachlan, he's played his part with that and I think he'll possibly captain that team one day.
“It's incredible to watch him come through as a young kid and then sort of mirror a lot of the things I've done – play for the Roosters, play now for Papua New Guinea, playing in the Challenge Cup final.
“It's nice to have Lachlan living in the UK with me when I'm so far away and I think he's developed really well.
“I think he'll come back to the NRL in the near future and I'm hopeful of that because he's certainly earned it."
One of the key connections Lam has fostered during his coaching career has been with Meninga, who he also worked together with on the international level at the Kumuls, where Lam was head coach and Meninga the coaching director.
“I've been with Mal for probably 10-plus years now and that's helped me develop as a coach as well,” Lam said.
“I've been involved with the Kangaroos now since 2016 but Mal has certainly played a part in helping develop me as a coach and I'm forever grateful for that.
"Every time he speaks, I try to zone in on him. I'm locked into everything that he says, because the way that he talks to players and manages players and his understanding of the game is second-to-none.
“I'm very grateful for having this opportunity to learn and keep learning off him to make me the coach that I've been.”
The World Beaters: Australia's stunning World Cup run
As for what it is that makes Meninga someone to aspire to, Lam said it was his ability to bring the best out of those around him.
“It's what makes the team successful, you know what he did with Queensland for all those years ago. Mal knows how to get the boys up for a big game,” Lam said.
“After we won the 2017 World Cup we lost the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith and Billy Slater and everyone said that Australia was going to struggle for two or three years but the way that Mal’s transitioned new players in and won the 2022 World Cup where we were ranked fourth... everyone's missed all of that, but I haven't.
"I understand what a great job he's done to just manage the transition of those players through where we have another bunch of young ones coming through now.
“I think communication with players is critical and just being honest with them, whether they like to hear what you're about to say or not. I think as long as you're honest, you can only improve those players.
“There's a fine formula to holding players accountable, but being honest with them too, be mature and respectful."
Match: Kangaroos v Kiwis
Week 3 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne