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Hull FC: Six candidates to replace Tony Smith as head coach

Hull FC head coach candidates.

With the news today that Hull FC have parted ways with head coach Tony Smith, there are a number of candidates to take the vacant role.

After a nightmare-ish start to the season, picking up just one win and conceding a club-record number of points at this stage in the season, Smith became the first Super League coach to face the axe in 2024.

There’s a feeling within the Black and Whites’ fanbase that Smith was dealt a bad hand, and wasn’t the main issue at the club.

It may, therefore, be a tough job to persuade top coaches to take.

However, the allure of a big club, and a Super League head coach role, could present a huge opportunity for some in the game.

Here are six candidates that we think could fill the role of head coach at Hull FC.

Daniel Holdsworth

Currently an attacking coach in the NRL, Holdsworth has never taken a head coach role.

However, he has Super League experience as a player – including with Hull FC.

As a player, the Australian was a half-back, and played for Salford from 2010 to 2012, making 75 appearances.

He then went on to play for Hull FC in 2013, kicking 30 goals in 22 games and being an integral member of the side that got to the Challenge Cup final, falling to Wigan Warriors at Wembley.

Since retiring in 2014, he’s taken on a number of coaching roles.

For the 2021 World Cup, played in 2022, he was assistant coach for Samoa, who shocked England 27-26 in the semi-finals before losing to Australia in the final at Old Trafford.

He’s currently the Cronulla Sharks attacking coach in the NRL.

Often, money is better Down Under, but moving up to a head coach role could be a huge opportunity for Holdsworth.

His experience at Hull FC in 2013 may also move him up the shortlist for Adam Pearson and Co.

Brian McDermott

Brian McDermott in a suit and tie.

Credit: Imago Images

Once a Super League mainstay, there are few coaches that have more experience than Brian McDermott.

After his glittering playing career, where he stayed at Bradford Bulls for the entirety of his playing days, he took coaching roles Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos.

His first head coach role was at Harlequins RL, now London Broncos, where he stayed for five seasons, from 2006 to 2010.

He then cemented his name as one of the greats during his long spell at Leeds Rhinos, where he won four Grand Finals, a League Leaders’ Shield, back-to-back Challenge Cups and the World Club Challenge.

He’s since struggled to achieve such success, with a Covid-threatened spell at Toronto Wolfpack and a disappointing experience at Featherstone Rovers, which culminated in 2022, being the last we’ve seen of him as a head coach so far.

He’s now assistant at Newcastle Knights.

As someone that’s not currently in a head coach role, he’s could look to join a new club – and with Hull FC the only vacant Super League role at the moment, he could see this as an opportunity to get back within British rugby league’s elite.

Justin Morgan

 Justin Morgan, as manager of Hull KR, looks dejected as he leaves the pitch.

Credit: Imago Images

Justin Morgan is a name that knows plenty about coaching in Kingston-upon-Hull.

The former Welsh international rose to prominence as a head coach with French outfit Toulouse Olympique, where he guided the side to a shock place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals in 2005.

He then moved to Hull FC’s city-rivals, Hull KR, spending seven seasons at Craven Park.

He was in charge as the Robins promotion to Super League in 2006, after beating Widnes Vikings in the Championship Grand Final and losing just two games all season.

He again provided impressive Challenge Cup exploits, with Rovers beating Super League side Warrington Wolves in the quarter-finals.

There was talk in 2007 that he’d replace the then-GB head coach, who was… Tony Smith. He, however, committed to Hull KR for a few more years.

Since then, he has been assistant coach at NRL sides Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors, as well as the Kiwis national team.

He was later head coach for the New Zealand women’s national team.

He’s currently assistant at North Queensland Cowboys signing a three-year deal with the club ahead of the current season.

However, Hull FC may be willing to pay a buy-out fee to bring the experienced coach, who, as we’ve seen over his career, can work magic in the role of underdog, which he would certainly be in as coach of the Black and Whites this year.

Danny Ward

Danny Ward answering questions during his post match press conference

Credit: Imago Images

Of these candidates, Danny Ward is the one that most recently had a Super League head coach role.

After coaching their youth teams, and being assistant coach, he was promoted to head coach at London Broncos in 2018, and guided them to promotion in his year year as a head coach, beating Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game.

He couldn’t however, keep them up in 2019, despite winning ten games and finishing on equal points with Hull KR, and just one win behind Wakefield Trinity and Huddersfield Giants.

Two years after leaving the Broncos, he took the top job at Castleford Tigers for the final six games of the 2023 season, with a win in his first game against local and relegation-rivals Wakefield Trinity enough to keep the Tigers up.

This feels like an unlikely one – he’s at Hull KR as assistant coach on a two-year deal currently, and reportedly rejected taking the role at Castleford permanently.

This suggests that he’s not in a rush to take another head coach job – and this wouldn’t be all too different to the one he rejected at Wheldon Road, which he said was for ‘personal’ reasons.

Lee Radford

Lee Radford as Hull FC head coach, is interviewed. He looks cold, and wears a beanie in FC colours - black and white.

Credit: Imago Images

This one seems like quite an obvious name.

Radford played around 200 games for Hull FC, and went on to become head coach two years after retiring – a role he held for seven seasons.

Before becoming head coach, he was assistant coach under Peter Gentle.

As head coach, he won back-to-back Challenge Cups in 2016 and 2017 – a feat the club haven’t been able to replicate since.

In 2016, he also steered his side to the playoff semi-finals, where they were defeated by Wigan Warriors.

However, his fortunes turned at the end of his time in Hull – just weeks into the season, Hull FC’s chief executive Adam Pearson – who remains at the club – revealed that Radford had been sacked, live on-air, just minutes after a 38-4 loss to Warrington Wolves.

Currently, he’s defence coach at Premiership rugby union side Northampton Saints.

He, of course, knows the club better than anyone, but would he want to return while Pearson is at the club, and would Pearson want Radford?

Richard Horne

Former Hull FC player Richard Horne talks to the players prior to their match against Leeds.

Credit: Imago Images

Another great servant of the club, this could be an interesting move.

After making his debut at the age of 16, Horne played for Hull FC from 1998 to 2014, being a one-club man in his playing days and making 383 appearances in black and white.

He had a spectacular career, setting a record of scoring in thirteen straight games, a Super League record, and playing in the halves for their 2005 Challenge Cup final victory over Leeds Rhinos.

He had a testimonial match with the Black and Whites in 2010, with over 16,000 supporters attending the pre-season fixture against Hull KR.

After retirement, he had a spell as an assistant coach under Lee Radford.

Since 2017, he’s been head coach at Doncaster RLFC.

There, he’s achieved great success – after two promotion final losses in a row, his side achieved promotion back to the Championship in 2023, defeating North Wales Crusaders 18-6 on home turf.

The newly-promoted side have had a very reasonable start to the season, beating the York City Knights 36-20 in their first game back in the second tier.

Since then, the Dons have faced losses to two of the league’s top sides, Sheffield Eagles and Wakefield Trinity.

This could be an outside-the-box move for Hull FC – he’s a relatively new coach, who has experienced some success with weaker 13s than they have – but it would be a huge risk to bring someone in that’s only just made the step up to the second tier, and has no experience as a head coach in Super League.

He does, though, know the league as a player, and his assistant coach experience under Radford could prove incredibly useful.

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