Laughable, laughable, laughable!
I’m not sure who came up with the five contenders for the ‘Greatest Coach’ poll being run by the Rugby Football League.
But whoever it was must have been on the grog.
I know these things are meant to be a bit of fun and are designed to start a debate.
But come on, let’s have a bit of sense, let’s remember that the great history of our great game goes back to the days when we played in winter, and let’s show a bit of respect to the fantastic coaches who have operated down the years.
If you haven’t seen the RFL’s fivefold, allow me to enlighten you.
Mal Reilly – well I’ve no objection to my old Leeds and Great Britain coach being included. After all he won the Challenge Cup, Player’s No6 Trophy and Yorkshire Cup with Castleford and enjoyed superb wins over both Australia and New Zealand when in charge of Great Britain. Mal encouraged his teams to play with a smile, but he could also deliver a kick up the backside.
Brian McDermott – you can’t argue with a World Club Challenge title, four Grand Final triumphs and two Challenge Cups from a man who was willing to work his way up the ladder with stints at Huddersfield, as an assistant coach, and Harlequins before taking the reins at Leeds.
Shaun Wane – three Super League titles and two Challenge Cups put the former Wigan and new England supremo is up there with Brian Mac.
John Kear – really? If the number of clubs coached was a factor, he’d be in the mix, but we’re talking the hard currency of silverware and producing sides who play fluent, entertaining rugby. While John masterminded a memorable Challenge Cup final shock when Sheffield beat Wigan back in 1998, and then enjoyed success with Hull against Leeds in 2005, for me, his CV is more about going into clubs and turning things around, as he did at Wakefield in 2006. In my book, that’s not enough to be considered one of the all-time greats.
Wayne Bennett¬¬ – you’ve got to be joking! Yes, he’s had success in Australia, but this is a Rugby Football League poll, and in terms of his stewardship of England and Great Britain, no way should his name be among the five. He failed to win the Four Nations with England in 2016, he failed to win the World Cup with England in 2017 and as for the shambles that was last year’s Lions’ tour, enough said.
Let’s compare Bennett’s record with Great Britain to that of Johnny Whiteley.
A hero at Hull, he not only claimed the Ashes in Australia as a player in 1962, but eight years later, repeated the feat as coach, and those remain the last two times we have won the series.
The man Johnny replaced when he took charge of Hull in 1965 was Roy Francis, a real trailblazer and believed to be the first Black British coach in professional sport. Many say he was ahead of his time in terms of his motivational methods.
Roy, a Great Britain international who had a fine tryscoring record as a player, was also a bit of a revolutionary in the way he encouraged his sides to operate, because he was all about speed and handling. He made his players, even the forwards, move quickly in order to get around the opposition rather than go through them.
It’s a mark of Roy’s quality that he had two separate spells in charge of two clubs. He began at Hull, with whom he won two titles in 1956 and 1958, and Leeds, with whom he won the Challenge Cup in the famous Watersplash final win over Wakefield in 1968.
He also coached North Sydney Bears and Bradford.
I consider myself lucky to have played under Arthur Bunting, another brilliant coach who led Hull to the club’s most sustained period of success during his eight years at the helm up to 1985.
The Black and Whites had fallen on hard times, and into the Second Division, when he was appointed, but he guided them back to the top flight in 1978-79 when amazingly they won all 26 league games, which is no mean feat at any level.
The season after, Hull finished third in the first division, which was the highest position ever attained by a promoted team, as well as winning the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy against Hull KR and making the Challenge Cup final, when Rovers took revenge at Wembley.
As well as the Challenge Cup (1982) and league title (1983), Arthur also won the John Player Trophy and Yorkshire Cup (three times).
It’s a magnificent record for a magnificent coach who made being around the club enjoyable and made sure no one player, however big a name they had, was bigger than the team.
And let’s not forget the likes of Alex Murphy, who kick-started a superb and very successful coaching career while still a player by winning the Lance Todd Trophy as he led Leigh to victory over Leeds in the 1971 Challenge Cup final (Alex later won the league title with Leigh in 1982), and Syd Hynes, who guided Leeds to seven wins in seven finals, two of them in the Challenge Cup, between 1975-81.
Also worthy of mention are Graham Lowe, who led the re-emergence of Wigan in the 1980s, and John Monie, who, after Grand Final glory with Parramatta, between 1989-93, guided the cherry and whites to four successive league and Challenge Cup doubles, as well as a World Club Challenge crown, and later returned to claim the 1998 Super League title.
Yes, Wigan were the richest club in the British game, but those two had what it takes to get the best out of the big-name players, which is not always easy.
And when it comes to great coaches, what about the likes of Peter Fox, who had such success at Featherstone and Bradford, Hull KR hero Roger Millward and Derek ‘Rocky’ Turner, regarded as the best Castleford coach ever and a title winner with Leeds in 1972.
Laughable, laughable, laughable!