What happened to former Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McClennan?

Brian ‘Bluey’ McClennan will forever be remembered in one part of West Yorkshire.

McClennan was only at Leeds for three years, but in those three years boy did he make a statement.

Son of former St Helens coach Mike, Brian was perhaps always going to head into rugby league. Whilst his playing career highlight was a captain’s knock with Auckland Rugby League as the province triumphed over the touring Great Britain side, McClennan’s time as a coach was a lot more substantial.

After managerial spells in Auckland, McClennan was made assistant coach for the Kiwis under Daniel Anderson, before being appointed as national coach of New Zealand in June 2005 ahead of the Tri-Nations series. It was a controversial move given the fact he had had no previous major managerial role in either Britain or Australia.

That controversy was wiped out by the end of the tournament though as he led New Zealand to an upset triumph, winning the series final against Australia 24–0 at Elland Road, Leeds – ironically, the same city McClennan would make his name in. Not only was it Australia’s first defeat in a series or tournament since 1978, but the margin equalled Australia’s biggest ever losing margin.

That series victory turned heads, and, after leaving his role as coach for the New Zealand national side, Brian McClennan made the trip over to Super League, taking over from Tony Smith at Leeds Rhinos, who had decided to leave the club for Warrington. ‘Bluey’, as he is affectionately known, picked up the baton left by Smith and bolted with it.

In the three years he was at the Rhinos, Leeds would conquer the Super League twice, becoming the only side in history to win the Grand Final three years running.

There would also be two World Club Challenge triumphs – including McClennan’s first game in charge against Melbourne Storm – and an appearance in the Challenge Cup Final in 2010, the club’s first outing in the final two of the competition for five years.

Needless to say, given his relatively short time at Headingley, he is regarded as one of the most successful coaches in Super League history, one of the most successful New Zealand coaches in history, and is universally regarded as one of the most popular bosses to ever take the reins at the Rhinos.

So where did he go? After Leeds had told McClennan that they were bringing Brian McDermott in (a very unpopular decision in Leeds at the time), he went back to New Zealand. In the interim period of his coaching career he worked at Auckland Rugby League as a Football Development Manager before being handed the reins as the first coach of the Exiles, a team made up of Australian and New Zealand players contracted to Super League clubs. McClennan steered the Exiles to victory over England in June 2011 in the first International Origin Match.

An NRL job wasn’t long around the corner either and it was announced that from August 1st, 2011, he would become the next coach of the New Zealand Warriors, taking over from Ivan Cleary after six years in the job. For McClennan to achieve his dream of coaching an NRL side, let alone it being his hometown club, was the highest point in his career from a personal point of view.

After eight wins in 22 matches, however, including two losses after leading by 18 points, a 45–4 loss at home to the Sharks and a 52–12 loss to the Cowboys in consecutive weeks, McClennan was sacked by the Warriors – an ignominious end for such a powerful figure.

That job loss prompted ‘Bluey’ into rugby league obscurity, though he has appeared on NRL talk shows over the years and continued to raise awareness and funds for Dementia Auckland – a charity that support programmes and advocacy for dementia sufferers and carers – after the passing of his father in 2019 from the disease.

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