With Rovers disappointingly back in the Second Division, the board took the bold step of looking outside Britain for the first time ever for their head coach. Australian coaches had become quite the vogue among clubs during the eighties but Rovers had until now resisted temptation. After much research, the man they chose for the job was John Dorahy, assistant coach of Newcastle. However, with Newcastle going well in the Australian playoffs and Dorahy’s arrival delayed, Rovers lost patience and contracted Steve Martin instead.
Steve Martin had been a half-back with Manly and Balmain and had also played in England with Leeds before coaching the North Sydney Bears in the ARL. He was head coach there for three seasons before he lost his job and Rovers came calling. With a talented squad, but having lost play-maker Deryck Fox, Martin set about building a Championship winning side. With players of the calibre of Newlove, Tuuta, Bibb and Pearson that aim was comfortably achieved.
Martin’s first real test came the following season as he had to try and consolidate the club’s position back in the top flight whilst coping with the loss of Newlove. In fact, he managed pretty well. In many ways Martin was the archetypal Australian coach, a product of his Sydney environment which placed great emphasis on defence, ball security and no risks no frills rugby. Whilst not the most entertaining of styles, it was effective. Rovers held their own in the First Division, finishing 11th of the sixteen clubs. With the money generated from Newlove’s transfer and the departure of Ian Smales, Rovers were able to splash out on Andy Currier, Steve Molloy, Carl Gibson, Gavin Hill, Matt Calland, Gary H Price and Iva Ropati. Currier suffered a cruel injury, Gavin Hill arrived crocked, but the others provided good value in a satisfactory year.
The following season was the last ever ‘normal’ season before the SKY backed Super League revolution took over the sport. Rovers had lashed out more cash, bringing in Mark Aston, Danny Divet and Fred Banquet. The Frenchmen proved a hit but Aston came in for a lot of criticism as the relatively expensively assembled side started to malfunction. Steve Martin had not quite got the balance right. With big money signings failing to perform and no local lads in the team, the dressing room was an unhappy and dislocated place. Given time Martin would have worked this out, but as always in these situations it’s the coach that’s the first to pay the price for a run of poor results. Martin went back to Australia, and briefly coached South Sydney in the late 1990s, and into Post Office Road came David Ward.
History will judge Martin as a capable coach with clear ideas of how to play, technically strong, but who failed to get the best out of his players, having assembled a squad that simply didn’t gel.
Steve Martin’s coaching record:
92/93: Won 27 Drew 1 Lost 6
93/94: Won 15 Drew 1 Lost 18
94/95: Won 2 Drew 1 Lost 5
Total: Won 44 Drew 3 Lost 29 = 59.87%