Coaching the national set-up is often hailed as one of the most prestigious accolades.
Though it was England that flew the flag for the nation in the 2000 World Cup, it was Great Britain that took over until 2007. From then on, England returned with the Lions once more making an appearance in 2019 in an ill-fated tour of Australia.
Five head coaches have taken either mantle since the millennium, but just how would they be ranked?
5. David Waite
In February 2001, Australian David Waite was appointed full-time head coach and technical director ahead of the Ashes series. It was a move that didn’t really pay off as Great Britain lost the Ashes series to Australia 1-2, despite winning the first test. That was as good as it got for Waite and, in July 2002, the Lions suffered a record test defeat 64-10 to Australia in Sydney. Waite’s misery was compiled even further a year later in a whitewash 0-3 Ashes series on home soil. To make matters even worse, the Kangaroos had sent a severely under-strength side. It proved to be the final nail in the boss’ coffin and Waite stepped down following the embarrassing defeat.
4. Wayne Bennett
Though Wayne Bennett took England to their first World Cup final in 22 years in 2017, the overall atmosphere as his spell as England and Great Britain boss was quite sour – especially the latter. Bennett failed to qualify for the Four Nations final in 2016 and was the source of much angst in 2017 when, in a mid-season test against Samoa, the veteran coach picked Australian-born players Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington. The last straw was the 2019 Lions tour; Bennett had been given the honour of leading Great Britain, but the tour began with a 14-6 loss to Tonga and, sandwiched in between two defeats to New Zealand, a humiliating loss to Papua New Guinea. That prompted his swift exit from the top job.
3. Steve McNamara
Despite spending five years at the helm from 2010 to 2015, Steve McNamara actually achieved very little in terms of on-field success. It was, however, a period of greater stability behind the scenes with the former Bradford boss instilling a new culture within the England squad. Heartbreak in the 2013 World Cup semi-final at Wembley was followed with a disappointing Four Nations competition in 2014, but McNamara did steer England to a 2-1 test series victory over New Zealand to claim the Baskerville Shield in 2015. Despite the series victory, McNamara’s contract was not renewed.
2. Tony Smith
In March 2007, Leeds coach, Tony Smith became the new Great Britain boss, winning his first game in charge against France. The impressive 3–0 whitewash of New Zealand followed before Smith took hold of the England reins for the 2008 World Cup. He coached the national side to the semi-finals where England lost to New Zealand and then lost the 2009 Four Nations final against Australia. But, Smith had ushered in a new era of positivity, paving the way for Steve McNamara.
1. Brian Noble
Brian Noble was handed the Great Britain reins following David Waite’s departure in 2004 and he immediately set about making a remarkable improvement. The 2004 Tri-Nations saw Noble steer the Lions to a sensational victory over Australia – the first time this had happened in 31 years. And, despite a very disappointing Tri-Nations in 2005, Great Britain recorded a 23-12 win against Australia in November 2006 which was the first triumph on Australian soil since 1988. Noble failed to guide the Lions to the final yet again, but he had made incredible strides in just two years, smashing two unwanted records in the process. Noble’s contract ran out at the end of the 2006 season and wasn’t renewed, mainly because the RFL wanted a full-time head coach which the then Wigan boss wasn’t willing to do.