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Ranking the top 10 coaches in Super League history

In the 26 years of Super League we have seen hundreds of coaches try to achieve success with one or multiple teams, but who are the best of the best?

Here are our top 10…

10. John Kear

After a tough stint in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Kear came into his own at Sheffield as they overachieved in Super League before their famous Challenge Cup triumph in 1998. The ‘underdog king’ worked his magic again at Hull FC in 2005 with another cup success and a Grand Final appearance the following year. He then took over a financially-stricken Wakefield side and kept them in Super League season after season, before dropping down the leagues to coach Batley and now Bradford.

9. Ian Millward

There’s no denying Ian Millward’s success in the game, especially his six seasons with St Helens. Having lifted two Super League titles and as many Challenge Cups as well as the League Leaders Shield and World Club Challenge, Millward made a name for himself as one of the top coaches in the British game. After leaving Saints under a cloud, he took over arch-rivals Wigan but endured a turbulent spell and was sacked early in 2006. It was six years before the Australian was seen in Super League again, taking over Castleford in 2012, winning six of his 25 games in charge before his departure a year later.

8. Justin Holbrook

Justin Holbrook will be long remembered for reviving St Helens’ flagging fortunes and turning them into the top team once more in Super League. Saints looked lost in 2017 under former playing great Keiron Cunningham, as they languished in mid-table and were hammered by Castleford in the Challenge Cup. Then in came their salvation Holbrook; he immediately got off to a flying start by annihilating Hull FC at Magic Weekend in his first official game. That was the sign of things to come as since then the Red Vee have bagged back-to-back League Leaders Shields, set a record for the amount of points in a season and lifted their seventh and eighth Super League title.

7. Tony Smith

Tony Smith guided Huddersfield back up to Super League and helped them survive the drop against all odds in 2003. He replaced Daryl Powell at Leeds a year later and secured the Rhinos their first Super League title in 2004. He led the club to World Club Challenge glory a year later before taking another Super League crown in 2007. After an unsuccessful spell in charge of England, Smith returned to the domestic game and made Warrington contenders again, taking them from the bottom to the top of the league within two years. The highlight of his time at the Wolves came between 2009 and 2012 as they won three Challenge Cups in four years. Now at Hull KR, Smith is tasked with keeping the Robins in the top flight and he will hope to bow out on a high if this is his last job.

6. Brian McLennan

The Kiwi assumed the role at Leeds from the aforementioned Smith in 2008 and immediately helped the Rhinos win their second World Club Challenge. Taking over the champions is never easy but ‘Bluey’ made it look easy at times as they secured back-to-back titles under his leadership, and three in a row as a club. In what was a golden decade of success for the Headingley outfit, the role of McClennan should not be forgotten and his selflessness in handing over the reins early to Brian McDermott will probably never be seen again.

5. Shaun Wane

Taking over from Michael Maguire at Wigan in 2012, Wane successfully maintained Wigan’s high standards of rugby league that his predecessor initially introduced. Having won three Super League titles alongside a League Leaders Shield, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge, Wane’s no-nonsense style of coaching was certainly effective. His passionate, old-school attitude is something the British game still desires and he could yet prove to be the perfect fit in his new role as the England national team head coach

4. Michael Maguire

Wane’s predecessor Michael Maguire is ranked that place higher despite spending considerably less time in charge at the Warriors. Wigan had finished sixth in 2009 and the dominance of Leeds and St Helens looked too much to overcome, certainly in the short term. However, the Australian turned the Cherry & Whites into the team to beat in the blink of an eye. They topped the league, defeated every other side, and lifted both the League Leaders’ Shield and Super League title in a season of dominance. Though 2011 was not quite as successful, Maguire still managed a Wembley win and set a precedence that Wigan’s ‘glory days’ were well and truly back.

3. Brian Noble

Brian Noble is number three on this list purely because of his trophy-laden seven-year spell in charge of the Bradford Bulls in which he was named the International Coach of the Year and the club’s Coach of the Century. Noble brought the best out of the Bulls, who reached their peak in the early-to-mid 2000s, with the side he assembled full of size, speed and international prowess. His spell in charge saw Bradford win three Super League titles, three World Club Challenge trophies, two League Leaders’ Shields and a Challenge Cup. The Bulls even stormed to the treble in 2003 before Noble left for Wigan in 2006, helping the Warriors back up the table. He then took over Welsh outfit Crusaders and guided them to an unlikely play-off spot in 2010. His last job in Super League was with Salford in 2014, but Noble will always be remembered for his heroics at Bradford during the peak of ‘Bullmania’.

So many questions still befall Brian McDermott but one thing that cannot be denied is his success. After toughing it out at Harlequins, he took over at Leeds in 2011 and made history by taking them to back-to-back Super League titles from fifth place. After ending the club’s Wembley drought in 2014, McDermott made history by guiding the Rhinos to the treble in 2015, followed by another Super League title in 2017. He coached and brought the best out of so many legends and though his reign did not end well, his record stands far and above any previous Leeds coach.

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