The Dean Pay way: 'Unashamedly' old school

After a game and the Parramatta players are relaxing at a local watering hole, but there is a collective groan when Dean Pay steps up to the juke box.

It's the late 1990s and George Michael, Oasis and the Backstreet Boys are among the artists topping the charts.

"Dean would inevitably and unashamedly play his old favourite 'Brown Eyed Girl' from the 60s," his then-Eels coach Brian Smith told NRL.com.

Avoiding the need to keep up to speed with his younger teammates, Pay loved his Van Morrison. The melodic but catchy tunes matched Pay's calm and collected nature.

It was "the Pay way" and it also worked a treat when he wore the Bulldogs jersey from 1989 to 1995, before switching to the Eels (1996-99).

"What's kept in him in good stead is that he comes from that very laid-back country attitude to life," said his coach at Canterbury, and currently Bulldogs director, Chris Anderson.

"It took two or three pushes to get him down to Sydney as he didn’t want to leave Dubbo.

Bulldogs coach Dean Pay.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"That country calmness is coming out in him more as a coach and that's what the players like. He takes the pressure of them," Anderson told NRL.com.

And the heat in the kitchen has been the one constant for Pay during the first two years of his NRL coaching career.

"He's becoming a really good coach," said Anderson, who led the Bulldogs to the 1995 premiership and Storm to the 1999 title.

"Dean has had a very tough start – he was a new NRL coach and had an inexperienced side and that's probably not a good combination.

Canterbury Bulldogs forward Dean Pay.
Canterbury Bulldogs forward Dean Pay. ©NRL Photos

"In the first two years of head coaching you find out more about yourself than anything else."

A 12th placing last year with eight wins, followed by nine wins so far in 2019 with one round to play. They were a chance of playing in the finals with a late-season surge of four straight wins.

But one thing is certain. Dean Pay will be as relentless chasing success as a coach as he was as a player. And he will absorb as many bullets as he has to along the way.

Smith said Pay was more your beer-and-steak kind of guy, rather than fruit salad and falafel. He played his football that way too.

"Dean is a very tough man, who loves his family, footy and a beer with a few laughs," Smith said.

"His ability to play footy at the very top level at his size and weight in the middle of the field can be testified to by plenty of bigger blokes who stopped to check their rib cages after he had left his calling card.

"But he was also very smart on the footy field. His rough-and-tough footy demeanour, crossed with his laid-back beer-and-mateship persona, may have misled footy folk who thought the Bulldogs gig would be beyond him.

The Parramatta Eels valued veteran Dean Pay.
The Parramatta Eels valued veteran Dean Pay. ©NRL Photos

"Resilience," Smith answered, when asked for a word to link Pay the player to Pay the coach.

Anderson said the sight of Pay riding home his players from the coach's box like the field entering the straight at Rosehill was glorious.

"He had that as a player actually – that emotion in games. I remember him taking on Gorden Tallis in the '95 grand final.

"He brought that pure emotion to matches especially to the big games, where he really stood up for us," Anderson said.

"He had a good footy brain – always understood the game and read it very well. He was a strong defender and always in the right place at the right time."

Former NSW Origin prop Dean Pay
Former NSW Origin prop Dean Pay ©NRL Photos

The current crop of Bulldogs players are obviously listening to what Pay is saying.

"He's still learning that – the communication side," Anderson said. "It's a tough one for him because he's not just learning how to have those good relationships with the players, he's also teaching them how to be first graders.

"Normally you come into a club and you've got a team who knows how to be first graders. But he's teaching a lot of kids at the moment.

"But he is learning a lot of lessons along the way. He goes away and thinks about it and puts a lot of his own time into it. He arrives at the office at 5.30 in the morning and is still there at 7 o'clock at night. He's working hard and he's starting to work smarter now – that's the essence of a good coach," Anderson said.  

Smith also remembers a game when Pay wasn't caught short of what to say.

"Parra versus North Sydney in a playoff match at Parra," he said.

"We are struggling at half-time, lucky to be still in the match. I'm offering the usual strategic stuff on the way we need to go about improving our performance.

"As I leave the dressing room Dean pulls the group together and gives the same group a more brutal version of how the win will be obtained.

"He and his mate Jarrod McCracken led the way by sheer physical intimidation and a dash of footy smarts. 'Never in doubt' was his verbal response post-match. "