Justin Holbrook has become the second head coach to lose his job in the NRL this season after he was cut loose by the Gold Coast Titans halfway through the season.
The news came out of the blue on the morning when the wash-up around NSW’s devastating loss in Origin II was still being digested.
Justin Holbrook reacts to Gold Coast Titans sacking
Yet the rugby league cycle seemingly never sleeps, with the Titans announcing two-time premiership-winning coach Des Hasler as their new man in charge, leaving Holbrook and club advisor, Mal Meninga, blindsided.
MORE: Mal Meninga shocked by abrupt departure of Justin Holbrook from the Titans
“I just can’t believe it,” Holbrook told The Courier Mail.
“I feel awful. Totally gutted.
“I did not see this coming at all, that’s what I am pissed off about.
“I could understand if they said, ‘Look you have three games or whatever time period to do something’, but to be moved on like this, I’m still coming to terms with it.
“If they were a bit more open about the way things were heading, I would have been able to digest this, but it’s hit me out of the blue.”
However, the Titans’ CEO had a differing version of events when he fronted the press to address the shock situation.
Steve Mitchell claimed the process had been a long one done in-house although Holbrook had been alerted to it going on.
“We’re at a point in time where we feel our program is not achieving what we want it to achieve, nor is it fulfilling promises we made to our rugby league community,” he said.
“It’s a point in time of change.
MORE: Who will take charge of the Titans for the rest of the 2023 season?
“We’ve done a lot of reviewing over the past 18 months to build out specific areas of the program – we’ve looked at our roster, our high-performance staff and how we’re sourced internally.
“We think we’ve got large chunks of that program right. The piece we don’t think we’ve got right at the moment is how the playing group is being brought forward by the head coach.
“It wasn’t a rush. It was the back end of a long process which we started towards the end of last year.
“But with all due respect, we did have a conversation with Justin.”
Yet Holbrook maintained he had no idea he was about to lose his job three years after taking over at the Titans following a highly successful stint in the Super League with St Helens.
Although after 82 games in charge on the Glitter Strip, he finished with just a 38 per cent winning record and made the finals just once during his tenure.
The Titans are currently placed in ninth spot on the ladder and are about to enter a season-defining run of fixtures with a local derby against Brisbane followed by meetings with the Raiders, Dolphins and Eels.
“I had no inkling at all,” Holbrook said.
“Steve just called me in this morning and said, ‘Have you got a minute’.
“I went in for a meeting and he said, ‘We are going to terminate you as of right now’.
“I said, ‘Shivers, on what … performance?’ I said, ‘Mate, I thought you would have given me a chance of getting the guys to the finals with our best players back’.
“Anyway, it was a waste of time talking. It wasn’t a negotiation. They had made up their mind.”
Des Hasler to become new Gold Coast Titans coach in 2024
The Titans move seems ruthless as it stands as a polar opposite to the way the St George Illawarra Dragons’ process has gone after they finally cut ties with Anthony Griffin earlier in the season.
At times, their search for a head coach has tipped over into the farcical with frontrunner, Jason Ryles, withdrawing from the race after seemingly having all but tied up the job, before Shane Flanagan was eventually appointed after gaining the unanimous approval of the board.
“It’s very unusual to have a coach of Des’ ilk in the market,” Mitchell explained.
“Justin has done a good job up until now but moving forward in 24, 25 and 26 – as you would have seen Des Hasler is taking over the reins.
“We’re excited to have Des on board. He has 458 games of first grade coaching experience, and he’s been to five grand finals with two wins.
“I’m really looking forward to Des’ work tempo. I think that’ll be extraordinary for our business – the people inside it. He’s going to stretch us which is exactly what we need.
“Like all people in life who stretch you, you achieve more than you ever thought you could, and I cannot wait for that challenge.
“Sometimes, timing is everything.”