New Manly Head of Performance, Jon Clarke, has enjoyed a decorated career as a player and a strength and conditioning coach.
Clarke played 355 games in the Super League in England at Wigan, London Broncos, Warrington Wolves, and Widnes. He won a premiership in 1997 with Wigan.
He also played two Tests for Great Britain and won a Challenge Cup final with Warrington in 2010.
Upon retirement, Clarke became a strength and conditioning coach at Widnes, then rejoined Warrington as Head of Performance, before joining England Rugby for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021.
We sat down with ’JC’ to learn more about his fascinating background.
What are some of your best memories from your playing career. You debut with Wigan in 1997?
“You always go back to your club debuts. I played in a great Wigan team in 1997 with the likes of Andy Farrell and Jason Robinson. I got to play in a Challenge Cup final, won a Super League title (1999), and played two Tests for Great Britain. They are always the standouts.
Tell us about the first time you met Manly CEO Tony Mestrov and Head Coach Anthony Seibold?
“Tony came across to Wigan in 1998 when I was 17 or 18. He was a great front row signing for Wigan. He played really well under Coach John Monie. We both later joined the London Broncos, so there was a connection there already when I came to Manly. It was at the London Broncos when I first met ‘Seibs’. We had a year there. He was a front-rower. Our paths separated and came back together when ‘Seibs’ worked for England Rugby where I had been for a few years. We tried our hands at a different sport in union, which we loved. ‘Seibs’ then got the head coach role at Manly for 2023. We spoke a little bit about me coming over. This was always an ambition of mine to have a crack at the NRL. I never got the chance as a player, so this was an unbelievable opportunity.
You also had a good connection with Manly winger Chris Hicks at Warrington?
“I heard about this character, Chris Hicks, who was coming over, and how he had given himself the nickname of ‘Spider’, so I though this guy is going to be special. We hit it off pretty quickly and had a couple of great seasons together. He scored a hat-trick in our Challenge Cup final win. He was unbelievable that day. When it came to finishing off and scoring tries, he was as good as any winger I played with. He was great for us off the pitch as well for us, the ‘Spider’. Very entertaining.
What impresses you about ‘Seibs’ as a Head Coach?
You can just tell from the detail that he brings into his coaching that he is someone you want to be around. I like detail and ‘Seibs’ is meticulous at that. I think it’s just the way he connects with players, he has a natural way with them. He connects and understands them and he also has got the foresight to bring in assistant coaches with a diverse coaching background to try and help that.
I just like the way ‘Seibs’ goes about his business. He is very well planned and can sell things to players with what we are trying to do with pictures and a few words. Players always talk about having clarity. I think the way we have tried to illustrate the way we want to play has been pretty clear up to now. All that comes back to the head coach.
Every club needs some good, entertaining characters. Who has stood out for you so far?
“Woodsy is one. He has got plenty to say, Aaron. He is a real glue person. He brings people together and keeps them on the straight and narrow.
I also would say Ray (Tuaimalo Vaega). He is fantastic. I don’t think he realises how good he can be. He has got so much potential. And training doesn’t come easy to him. He has come back in really good shape and has ripped into training. I just like the way he goes about it. He is always into me. Why are we doing this and what’s this? I love that. In terms of adding to the group, they have both been brilliant.
As a former hooker, how have you found working alongside Mick Ennis?
“Watching Mick coach, I love his demand around the detail he puts on players and the standards he is trying to install. He has got a wealth of experience around the ruck, so his work with the nines and the halves, and getting the forwards to come on to the ball properly, are going to be really useful. He is a character, too.
It must excite you to work with such a talented spine?
“Tom Trbojevic is a winner. I just love the way he competes for everything. At training, it doesn’t matter what we do, he wants it right. His timing onto the ball, and way he moves, is phenomenal. With Luke Brooks, you can see with the way he trains, he is a real threat on the ball. I love, for a bloke with his weight, just how prepared he is to take the line on. He is going to be great for us. Daly, well, he is just a champion. His record speaks for itself as a player and leader. Lachie Croker, from what I watched of last season, was a real success. He was in the top 3-4 players for Manly each week.