Mbu looking for progress in 2023

6th October 2022

Joe, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me!

Q: Firstly, congratulations on your nomination for League one Coach of the Year, that must be satisfying in your first year back as Head Coach of London Skolars?

A: Thank you! Yes, it’s nice to be nominated for the award, hopefully it was an indicator of the difference that has been seen with this team in matches this season. I see it as an honourable thing considering the nomination comes from my peers in the League, a lot of whom have similar or higher coaching experience than I do. I believe there is a lot more to come from both myself and the team, so the nomination is nice but there is a lot more work to do.

Q: It has been a couple of weeks since the end of the season for Skolars, how do you assess how 2022 went for the team?

A: It was an up and down season, transitional may be the word I would use. I believe the team did better than expected or predicted based on recent seasons results. At the beginning of the season, we had a pretty big turnover of players, an entirely new coaching staff & a new club GM.  It takes time to form relationships and throughout the season there was clear evidence of progression in a lot of areas.

Q: You mention the turnover of players, a good few came in late in pre-season and even halfway through the season, how did that impact you coaching the squad?

A: That’s the fun of being a coach, there aren’t many guys left from the previous squad I coached so it’s an enjoyable challenge seeing a mostly new group and assessing their strengths and development areas & how I could help them improve as players. The guys that came in later in the season added to the group and we should have a solid base for 2023.

Q: You have a number of players, notably Jarred Bassett, Jonny Bell & Doug Chirnside in your squad this year who have come from the amateur game and SCL sides in London, how do you see that London pathway now?

A: It’s great for London, maybe we don’t shout about it as much as we should. Northern clubs get a lot of credit for identifying players from amateur sides and giving them the opportunity of the professional game. Ourselves and London Broncos provide a good pathway into the pro game and there will be plenty more players that are good enough from the amateur sides in London over the coming years, I am sure of it.

Q: How important is it to you that the team remains predominantly London born/developed players?

A: That’s always been my ethos for the club, we have access to a huge number of athletes in London, as always, we have to get it right with the younger ages and introducing them to the sport at an early age and showcasing how great the game is and the pathway to being a professional player. Ultimately, if we are to continue to grow the game we have to keep working towards self-sufficiency.

Q: It’s your second stint as Head Coach of London Skolars, how do you see yourself as a coach now compared to your first stint at Skolars and has your coaching philosophy changed at all?

A: Good question, I would say my core principles and values are the same. You definitely learn along the way; time equals experience and I have grown as a coach over the last four or five years. I spent time in Rugby Union and learnt some different philosophies and ways of training & different aspects of rugby. It’s very interesting to see elements of both games that can be incorporated into the other.

Q: Let’s talk about 2023, how is planning for next season going?

A: Planning is going well, we are focused at the minute on bringing in some new players, some fresh enthusiasm and quality to add to hopefully retaining the bulk of last years squad.

Pre- season dates are pencilled in, they will be confirmed over the next couple of weeks and there is an eagerness to get started again. The club, the players, myself and the coaching team are not satisfied with where we are and believe there is a lot more to come from the team.

Q: What characteristics do you look for in a new recruit for the squad?

A: Number one has to be a genuine desire to play for the club, that means understanding what we are trying to achieve. Number two is making sure as much as we can that they are good people and then number three that they bring positivity and add to the environment we are trying to create.

Q: You mention the club environment and culture is a buzz word around team sports these days, what is Skolars club culture to you?

A: Culture is hugely important, everyone talks about it, not many really commit to it or get it right and it is constantly evolving. What we are trying to build is a mutual respect, a genuine warmth, somewhere that everyone feels they get the opportunity to improve as a player & are treated fairly. To be able to do that you have to have the right people in the room, people who are going to buy in and show the correct attitude, take ownership if they make an error and be prepared to positively contribute to the group whether they are in the matchday squad or not.

Q: Finally, Joe what are your ambitions for the 2023 season?

A: I don’t like to give an outcome goal; they remain private within the group. The inputs need to be right, in the past I have heard it said that London Skolars are a one half team, last year in some games that was true. We have to develop into a team that can play consistently for the whole 80 minutes and based on last year if we can do that, we will win another handful of games. I’d sum it up in one word for 2023; progress!

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