Where are they now? Six former Super League coaches who went off the radar

Super League, like any other sporting league, has had its fair share of coaches. Some of them have had long and successful careers and others have had short and terrible ones. Many fit somewhere between the two. 

Because of this, it has sparked an interest to look into some other former Super League coaches and find out what happened to them. Where did they go? Did they carry on coaching? Have they ever been heard from again? Where are they now? 

As such, here are six coaches who you may remember and others you may not. There are many coaches who could have gone on this list, but this is my selection. 

Brian McClennan

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 Challenges 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 coaches in history.

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 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.

But even before the end of his first of two contracted years with the Warriors, he was axed. In Cleary’s last year as coach the only NRL side in New Zealand had reached the Premiership final but the following year, under McClennan, they finished 13th. Both players and coach were disappointed in the decision, with many players saying it was the wrong decision. But nevertheless, McClennan’s tenure with the Warriors was over.

Since then, he has never been involved with any other club and has slipped completely off the Rugby League radar. A sad end to a coach who was so well loved by his players, no matter what side of the world they were on. He now works for a sports consultancy agency in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Tony Rae

Tony Rae was a respected rugby league player to say the least. The biggest part of his career as a player was with the North Sydney Bears, primarily as a hooker, from 1988-1994. He then left the club to take up an offer from the London Broncos and he played there for two seasons, finishing his career with the club.

The Broncos had obviously gotten under Rae’s skin as he moved from player straight into the role of chief executive at the club, a position which he held until 2000. During this time, the biggest achievement the Broncos made by far was toppling the Canberra Raiders in the World Club Challenge in 1997, the first playing of the game in the newly re-branded Super League. During his time as chief executive, he also took on some coaching responsibilities but they were minimal. After two coaches had been and gone, Rae was persuaded by London to become head coach for the club on a full-term basis.

He left his role as chief executive and took up the challenge, starting his first season in charge in 2000. In 2003 and 2005 he would lead the Broncos to two play-off series, but during a slip in performances in 2006, the merger with Harlequins was announced and Rae was replaced by Brian McDermott as head coach. He was then admitted onto the Board of Directors and served the club for a further two years before announcing his departure from the capital in 2008.

From here he would go on to coach The Brumbies, a Super Rugby side based in Canberra, after initially taking the role of assistant coach. After head coach Andy Friend was sacked just two games into the season after a crushing loss to the Melbourne Rebels, Rae replaced him. But the ties to London were never that far beneath the skin and in 2012 he went back to be the interim coach at the club following Rob Powell’s departure. He would be made head coach of the London club once more in August 2012 and would stay for three seasons until his departure at the end of 2014.

Tony Rae has now stepped away from Rugby League altogether. He is now the co-founder and head of an investment company called TORC Capital, based in London. It seems fitting that Rae has stayed in the same city as the club he obviously loved.

Michael Potter

A man who played at fullback for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, St. George Illawarra Dragons, and the long since defunct Perth side, the Western Reds, Mick Potter was a well known face within the NRL. With the Dragons he became captain and led his side to two Premiership Final appearances. His retirement from the game in 1996 marked the end of a successful career and he turned his attention to coaching with the New South Wales Under-17s.

In 2006, Catalans Dragons announced that Potter would become their new head coach and he had a successful run with the French side. In 2007, the French side reached the final of the Challenge Cup and Potter was rewarded with receiving the Coach of the Year accolade in 2008. For the 2009 season, Potter would take over from Daniel Anderson as head coach for St. Helens. He would also be a success here as he got Saints to a third consecutive Grand Final, making it a fourth in 2010 which would be his last season with the club.

Potter made the move to Bradford Bulls for the start of the 2011 season in what would be a trying time for both parties. As Bradford slipped further and further into catastrophic money problems, the 2012 season saw Potter work for the Bulls without being paid, leading them to a brush with the semi-finals at the end of the year.

After this, he took the head coach job at the Wests Tigers, where he was contracted for two years. However, in his second season things broke down between the team and himself and it led to him being fired by Wests on the 17th of September 2014. From here he would coach the Fiji Under-20s side and the New South Wales Under-16s team before becoming Nathan Brown’s assistant coach at Newcastle Knights.

As well as his commitments in Newcastle, he was also given the opportunity to coach the Fiji national side where he manned the helm for eight games, winning five. In 2018, he stood down from the role and from then on, Potter has been an NRL Development Coach at the Parramatta Eels and then NSW Cup coach for Mounties who is the feeder team for Canterbury Bulldogs. Even more exciting, Potter and is set to take over at ambitious new club New York this year. So, Michael Potter may not have gone off of the radar internationally as such, but as far as Super League is concerned, he has. 

Royce Simmons

Royce Simmons was a one-club man in his playing career, appearing for the Penrith Panthers over 230 times from 1980-1991. Within that time he also made ten appearances apiece for New South Wales in the State of Origin and Australia in test rugby. Simmons is a Penrith legend, captaining the Panthers for eight seasons and leading them to the 1991 Premiership, scoring two tries in the process. In the list of all the players to have ever played for Penrith, Simmons is the first choice for hooker in their Hall of Fame.

With a playing record to such a standard as that, it was not surprising when he retired after that Premiership winning season, he turned his attention to coaching. He started off away from the NRL with a team called St. Mary’s in reserve grade football. His first top flight job was actually here in Super League with Hull F.C. from 1992-1994 but with only a 37% win percentage he didn’t make many waves.

After Simmons left the club, the Panthers offered him the head coach position which he took up in 1994. During this time, he got the Panthers to the finals twice but couldn’t capture the title and he would stay at Penrith for seven years before his eventual sacking after a severe drop off in form. He then served under Tim Sheens from 2003-2010 at the Wests Tigers as the latter’s assistant coach before being coaxed back to Super League by St. Helens. Despite getting Saints to their fifth consecutive Grand Final, they were beaten by Leeds for the fourth time in five years.

After the complete mis-fire from St. Helens at the start of the 2012 season, Simmons was sacked and was forced to go back to Australia. Here, he would be the assistant coach under Mick Potter back at Wests Tigers but this would, like his time in Lancashire, not last long. As the Tigers were unravelling under the awkward tension between themselves and Potter, not only was he sacked, but Simmons and his fellow assistant coach, Steve Georgallis, went the same way, despite the fact it was reported that they had quit the club days before. This was the last time that Simmons would appear in the headlines of Rugby League and has since gone underground completely. 

Shaun McRae

A favourite character in Super League, Shaun McRae was a well known voice and advocate of the British game. Working extensively on commentary with the legendary likes of Mike “Stevo” Stephenson and Eddie Hemmings not only at games, but also appearing on Boots ‘N’ All in a regular segment documenting events in the NRL, he was a figure that was accessible to all Super League fans. Moving from his first job as assistant coach for the Canberra Raiders, McRae would secure his first head coaching role with St. Helens in 1996.

In this year, McRae’s Saints would win the first Challenge Cup and the first Grand Final of the new Super League era and he would receive Coach of the Year for his efforts. In 1997 they went on to win the Challenge Cup again. The Australian remained at Saints for three seasons in total before moving to spend a little time with the first incarnation of Gateshead Thunder. As Gateshead were merged with Hull F.C, McRae found himself in the top spot with the Black & Whites.

He remained there until 2004 when he was asked to be head coach at the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Things started off well for McRae at the ‘Bunnies’ as they secured joint top spot in the 2005 season with Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, the defending Premiers. But, in what was a trying time for the club as more of their stalwart players retired and the players who replaced them were not of the same calibre, 2006 marked the fourth time in five years that Souths found themselves at the foot of the table.

McRae was ousted at the end of the season but took up a position on the Rabbitohs’ Board of Directors. In June 2007 he would take over coaching at Salford but that would see them relegated to League 1. During the 2008 season Salford were dominant and won the Northern Rail Cup, the League Leaders’ Trophy and the Grand Final which meant they were promoted to Super League where they have remained ever since.

Health problems would cut his time with Salford short two years later and he moved into the role of Director of Rugby for Hull F.C. in 2012. He left the position and returned to Australia in 2013 achieving a successful coaching record in Super League. Apart from appearing for the odd interview, Shaun McRae has left the world of Rugby League and is no longer associated with any other club. 

Paul Cullen

The predecessor to James Lowes before Tony Smith took over at the Wolves, Paul Cullen was another one-club man in his time as a player. Appearing 350 times for Warrington between 1980-1996, he is the first man to be born in Warrington, to play for Warrington, and then to coach Warrington. Because of this statistic and his service to the club, Cullen received the honour of being inducted into Wire’s Hall of Fame in 2016 where was greeted with a standing ovation.

After he retired in 1996, he helped with Warrington’s Under-21 side and became the Wolves’ assistant coach. In 2000, he got his first head coaching role at Whitehaven where he would stay for three seasons. To this date he is still thought of with great fondness in the town despite only being there for a short period of time.

In 2002, Warrington had fallen into dire straits and were on the verge of relegation so Cullen was asked to come back to the club to help in prevent this from happening. They survived and were never again in contention for relegation during his time with the club. From his first season (2002) to his last (2008), Cullen put the foundations in place for a better Wolves side and as such, they were able to get to a Challenge Cup semi-final but this was the only real success during this period.

After mounting pressure from the media and even the fans, Cullen resigned as coach after a disastrous run of form in 2008. In 2009 he would be appointed head coach at Widnes and, after rebuilding the team in order to get them back into Super League, (succeeding in getting the Vikings to back-to-back Northern Rail Cup finals) Cullen handed the reins to Denis Betts as he took the role of Director of Rugby.

This was a position he held until 2012 – Widnes’ first season in Super League for six years. Cullen felt his job had been completed at the Vikings and this was his last role within a Rugby League setting. He is not listed as having any affiliations with any other professional sporting institutions. 

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