First there was Matthew Elliott’s star-studded Bradford side of the late-1990s. Then there was Ian Millward’s – and then Daniel Anderson’s – all-singing, all-conquering St Helens sides of the mid-2000s, with other Antipodeans like Brian McClennan and Tony Smith following in their footsteps.
Yet ahead of the Super 8s beginning this weekend, have we inadvertently stumbled across a golden era of young, hungry and supremely talented British rugby league coaches?
This country has traditionally produced some wonderful coaches. Even the Super League era has yielded some great ones in an era dominated by overseas coaches – think the likes of Brian Noble, for example.
But have a glance at the Super League table going into the Super 8s. The top five sides, the teams who have led the way for 23 rounds, are all coached by Englishmen. Most of them are Englishmen fairly new to the coaching game too, as this shows:
- Daryl Powell (Castleford, 1st): 12 seasons as head coach, five at current club
- Brian McDermott (Leeds, 2nd): 12 seasons as head coach, seven at current club
- Lee Radford (Hull FC, 3rd): 4 seasons as head coach, all with current club
- Ian Watson (Salford, 4th): 3 seasons as head coach, all with current club
- Chris Chester (Wakefield, 5th): 4 seasons as head coach, two with current club
Radford and Chester are just 38 years of age. Watson is only two years their senior at 40. McDermott is 47 which, in coaching terms, is still fairly young. Powell is the oldest at 52 but it is only in recent years where he has shown himself to be a world-class coach.
Shaun Wane, the coach of the reigning champions, can also be thrown into that bracket too as a top-class coach. In fact, only two of the top eight are coached by non-Englishmen: St Helens and Huddersfield.
Now while it’s not uncommon to have seen plenty of Englishmen coaching in Super League in the past, there’s surely never been a crop who have been as successful as the current group. The Challenge Cup winners will be coached by an Englishmen this year – the League Leaders’ Shield winners are almost certainly going to be, too. Can the Grand Finalists make it a clean sweep?
It’s hugely exciting news for the future of the sport in this country. While in the past, Australian coaches have come over and made an instant impact, the changing of the guard in terms of clubs placing their faith in talented young Englishmen could have a long-term impact on the sport’s future.
Coaches like Chester, Radford and Watson have been given opportunities to thrive and have taken it with both hands. It may well convince other clubs to do the same in the coming years. The impact it may have on the club’s youth development programmes could also be another key positive of the success of our young British coaches.
Everyone wants England to do well at the World Cup, that is without question. But if it doesn’t go to plan and the Wayne Bennett era was to come to an end, there would be no shortage of contenders to take over.
In fact, it’s difficult to remember a time where there were as many tailor-made candidates for the big job as there is now. That’s a huge positive for the sport’s future at all levels.