Ranking the five greatest head coaches in Super League history

IT takes character, a certain kind of person and man-manager to excel as a rugby league coach.

In the Super League era, numerous head coaches have come and gone, but, along the way, some have stuck in the memory of almost all rugby league fans.

Here are the five best coaches of the Super League era.

5. Tony Smith

It’s been one of the most different coaching careers in terms of Super League clubs managed, with Tony Smith starting with Huddersfield back in 2001. The Giants may well have been relegated that year, but Smith guided the West Yorkshire side back to Super League the year after before steering them to safety in 2003. Smith 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 adding to that success with another Grand Final win in 2007.

With Brian McLennan coming in at Leeds, Smith made the shift to Warrington where he won three Challenge Cups in four years between 2009 and 2012. After nine years at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, the Australian left before taking up a head coaching role with Hull KR. Struggling near the bottom of the table, Smith turned things around dramatically as Rovers reached the Super League play-off semi-finals in 2021 and the Challenge Cup semi-finals in 2022. Now at neighbours Hull FC, it hasn’t exactly gone to plan at the MKM Stadium, with the Black and Whites finishing outside the play-offs in 2023 and winning just one Super League game in 2024 so far.

4. Daniel Anderson

He arrived to replace Ian Millward as St Helens boss in 2005, but Daniel Anderson left quite a legacy at Knowsley Road. The Australian won four consecutive League Leaders Shields – something which no other coach has managed to achieve before or since a feat matched by no other coach in the summer era. Part of that stunning feat included the treble in 2006 as Saints romped to Challenge Cup and Grand Final success, as well as scooping up the Sports Personality Team of the Year.

The Merseyside club took home the World Club Challenge in 2007 before triumphing in the Challenge Cup again that year and then again in 2008. Defeats to Leeds in the 2007 and 2008 Grand Finals ended any hope of an incredible treble-treble. Anderson’s legacy was massive; he won a trophy in each year as Saints boss.

3. Brian Noble

Much of Brian Noble’s success in Super League is sometimes forgotten about given the absence of trophies in his three most recent top flight jobs at Wigan, Crusaders and Salford. However, a seven-year spell at Bradford is what confirms a spot in third in this list.

Winning three Super League titles, three World Club Challenge trophies, two League Leaders Shields and a Challenge Cup, Noble himself was awarded the International Coach of the Year and the club’s Coach of the Century. The devastation that the Bulls left in their wake in the early 2000s was epitomised by the treble success in 2003 as Bradford’s early Super League dominance was underlined.

2. Kristian Woolf

It was so difficult to put Kristian Woolf second rather than first, but the fact that he only spent three seasons at St Helens is the reason why. That being said, the Australian took Super League by storm in those three years, winning a Grand Final in each year as well as one Challenge Cup in 2021.

The legacy of Woolf is one of the greatest ever seen at Saints with new boss Paul Wellens having his work cut out to follow in his footsteps. Having arrived on UK shores as a relative unknown who had coached the Tonga national side, he returned home to Australia at the end of 2022 a hero on Merseyside.

1. Brian McDermott

Try as you might, you will not find another coach as successful as Brian McDermott in the Super League era. McDermott began his coaching career as an assistant to Tony Smith at Huddersfield in 2003 before taking his first senior coaching role with Harlequins RL in 2006. The real success started, however, when he joined Leeds as head coach at the end of 2010.

McDermott coached Leeds to several major trophies including the 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017 Super League titles, the 2012 World Club Challenge, and the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cups – with a treble in 2015. That means that McDermott only failed to achieve a trophy in two seasons – 2013 and 2016. McDermott’s tenure at the Rhinos ended midway through 2018 after a run of seven losses in a row, but he still remains the most successful coach ever in the summer game.

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