Coaching a sporting side must be a nightmare; unpredictable and fickle, the life of a head coach in rugby league has so many ups and downs – one minute every fan loves you and the next they are calling for your head.
Unfortunately, that’s the way that sport works and in 2020 it was Lee Radford’s turn to be shown the door at Hull FC after a string of disappointing results. Huddersfield boss Simon Woolford exited the club during the pandemic as Andy Last and Luke Robinson took over their roles respectively.
Heading into the 2021 campaign, however, and there lies a clean slate for all head coaches yet some are definitely under more pressure than others to perform. Here are those five.
5. Brett Hodgson – Hull FC
It seems rather harsh for a head coach to be under pressure before he has even had a full game in charge, but Brett Hodgson knew the state of affairs when he took the Hull FC job at the end of 2020. Andy Last did a great job, steering the Airlie Birds to a semi-final play-off, but that wasn’t good enough for ambitious owner Adam Pearson who has now looked to the former Man of Steel Hodgson to win silverware. And, anything short of that will not be looked at favourably.
4. Chris Chester – Wakefield Trinity
Head coach at Wakefield since 2016, Chris Chester endured a miserable campaign in 2020. With rumours of dressing room disorder and a second-bottom finish in the Super League table, last season was arguably Chester’s worst since taking over. As such, the rebuild is well and truly on in 2021. To be fair, he has recruited well with NRL halfback Mason Lino joining the club and star second-rower Kelepi Tanginoa re-signing so the upcoming season should see a new-look Trinity. But, despite being friends with chairman Michael Carter, Chester must improve.
3. Steve Price – Warrington Wolves
Steve Price would have been higher up this list if the news that he was leaving to go back to the NRL at the end of 2021 hadn’t come about. Price lost both major finals in his first year in 2018, before winning the Challenge Cup in 2019. However, a final-less and trophy-less 2020 with both marquee signings Gareth Widdop and Blake Austin in his ranks bewildered Wire fans. Given such firm financial backing by the Warrington owners, Price should be winning silverware. Let’s see if 2021 will be any different.
2. Daryl Powell – Castleford Tigers
Ever since Daryl Powell took over at Castleford, the club has been on an upward spiral. Yet, 2020 was abysmal to say the least. An eighth-place finish was the lowest the Tigers had finished under the former Featherstone boss with Powell quite obviously physically and emotionally stressed. Life after lockdown was horrendous with just two wins from 11 games consigning Castleford to obscurity. Into his eighth full season with the Tigers, Powell needs to be pushing his side for silverware instead of mid-table mediocrity.
1. Kristian Woolf – St Helens
It’s difficult enough getting to the top, but for Kristian Woolf, his objective is now to stay there after winning the Super League trophy in 2020. Backing up a title-winning season is incredibly tough and the Tonga boss now has the unenviable task of trying to carry that out. The straight-talking Aussie transformed St Helens from a lacklustre outfit before lockdown to rip-roaring entertainers after it and, despite missing out on the League Leaders’ Shield, Saints had just enough to pip Wigan to the Grand Final post. Only time will tell if Woolf is able to replicate that.