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Super League’s top five head coaches of all time

Over the 27 years of Super League we have seen some excellent coaches from both the UK and overseas. In the latest of our ‘top five’ series, we have taken on the difficult task of ranking the five best head coaches in Super League history. Here are our choices…

5. Brian McDermott

Coming in at number five is the marmite character of Brian McDermott. A lot of people still question 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. He’s since had a brief stint back in Super League with Toronto Wolfpack after sealing their promotion in 2019, though things again didn’t end well, it wasn’t McDermott’s fault as off-field issues cause the downfall of the club. Though he failed to get Featherstone to the top flight last season, McDermott is still the most successful coach in Super League history.

4. Tony Smith

Tony Smith has done more than enough over the years to prove he is a top class coach. The Australian 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 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. Smith more recently turned the fortunes of Hull KR around, making them one of the most attractive teams to watch in the league. Now at city rivals Hull FC, Smith is tasked with a similar job he faced at Warrington as he looks to make the Black and Whites contenders for silverware in 2023 and beyond.

3. Brian Noble

Brian Noble is ranked at third in our prestigious list. It’s owed to 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; with the Bulls class of 2003 the highlight as they stormed to the treble. Noble left for Wigan in 2006 and helped them back up the table, before taking Welsh outfit Crusaders to an unlikely playoff 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’.

2. Daniel Anderson

In second place we have Daniel Anderson. Arriving in 2005 to replace Ian Millward, the Kiwi would guide St Helens to four consecutive League Leaders Shields, a feat matched by no other coach in the summer era. After somehow missing out on both finals in 2005, Saints dominated a year later and secured a clean sweep of awards, including the Sports Personality Team of the Year. An impressive world title followed in 2007 and was backed up as they secured their third consecutive Challenge Cup triumph in 2008. Two heartbreaking defeats to Leeds at Old Trafford in both 2007 and 2008 denied Saints an unprecedented treble-treble, an achievement that will likely never be seen. Anderson’s impact didn’t just bring silverware; he helped Saints produce arguably the most scintillating rugby Super League has ever seen, especially in 2006.

1. Kristian Woolf

Kristian Woolf comes in at number one with the highest win percentage of any coach in Super League history and won the competition in all of his three years in charge at St Helens. Woolf was faced with a difficult task of taking over a team who were already champions from the previous season in 2020, with  Justin Holbrook reviving Saints’ flagging fortunes and turning them into the top team in Super League again. It wasn’t easy going for Woolf at the start with Saints losing as many games after just six rounds in his first season as they did in the whole of the last campaign under Holbrook. However, after the pandemic, St Helens found their form to climb the table and beat rivals Wigan Warriors in a dramatic Grand Final in Hull thanks to Jack Welsby’s last-gasp try. They backed that up the following season by doing the league and cup double, beating Castleford Tigers at Wembley and Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford. In his last season in 2022, Saints topped the table and beat Leeds Rhinos at the Theatre of Dreams to make it three Super League titles in a row under Woolf, and a record four in total. In his three seasons at the Totally Wicked Stadium, Woolf won five trophies and lost just 19 of his 80 games in charge.

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