It has long been a curious sight: Allan Langer, arguably the greatest player in Brisbane Broncos history, running water for the current under-performing team.
The Broncos’ recent dismal form has only made the situation more jarring and former Test playmaker Matthew Johns says it should end.
Johns criticised Brisbane and besieged coach Anthony Seibold for not utilising ‘Alfie’ properly, as both a Broncos hero and one of history’s finest halfbacks.
He said that acting as a waterboy, a common part of an on-field trainer role, was “beneath” Langer.
“The head coach gets all the blame and rightly so, but Anthony Seibold has got to have a look at the team he has put around him,” Johns said on The Matty Johns Podcast.
“One of the things I don’t get about the Broncos at the moment and the team around Seibold is that of all the blokes around him, you have got Allan Langer running the water.
“For me, that is not right. Now I understand Alf is going on the field and he is probably tipping blokes and things like that, but it doesn’t look right to me. In my opinion, that is beneath Alf.”
Langer, who turns 54 this month, was released from a Broncos assistant coaching role in 2012 under Anthony Griffin’s coaching regime. He insisted that he had stood down, rather than being axed, and moved into an ambassadorial role with the club.
He was rehired as a coach for season 2015 when Wayne Bennett returned to Brisbane. Curiously, it was Bennett – one of Langer’s greatest admirers – who gave him the waterboy role, on top of an assistant coaching job working with the halves.
The NRL’s ‘blue shirt’ trainers largely act in a tactical capacity. They are allowed on the field of play three times per half, plus during stoppages in play.
Langer is one of the ‘blue shirts’ who inspired the on-field limitations imposed by the NRL. He previously spent huge amounts of time on the paddock guiding the team and his fame as a player made his constant presence even more noticeable.
Concern over Langer’s role may be simple optics, sparked by the four-time premiership winner carrying water while delivering tactical instructions. Or they may be entirely valid; that Langer is not more involved in formulating those instructions, rather than simply relaying the coach’s plans to players on-field.
The make-up of Seibold’s staff is entirely at the coach’s discretion, Broncos legend and director Darren Lockyer told Wide World of Sports. Langer, who played 259 games for the Broncos and scored 100 tries, has certainly never held ambitions to be a head coach.
Yet Johns’ comments add to a concerning theme for the Broncos, who have been roundly accused of disrespecting their club greats.
Former captain Gorden Tallis has been an outspoken critic, particularly after Brisbane snubbed five-time premiership winner Kevin Walters as coach when they appointed Seibold.
Champion Broncos prop Glenn Lazarus said this week that he had not been welcomed back to the club for the past five years. Former superstar winger Willie Carne aired similar gripes.
“We’re not welcome and I find it hard to stomach when I consider that the Storm and the Raiders welcome us with open arms, the ex-players,” Lazarus told Wide World of Sports Radio, having won premierships at all three clubs.
“They (Melbourne and Canberra) don’t do that because they feel as if they’re obligated to do it. They do it to celebrate their rich past and history.
“The Broncos’ history from the year they came into the competition up until a couple years ago, it’s a winning culture. That has just been forgotten about and it’s not all that mentioned.
“As Gorden said, the old boys just aren’t invited to anything in regards to the club and taking part in what is a wonderful club, or was. It’s a sad case of affairs to be honest with you.”
The Broncos have recent greats like Lockyer, Sam Thaiday and Justin Hodges on staff at the club, alongside Langer, but there is a clear disconnect with other players of ‘Alfie’s’ golden era.