Rugby League Heroes: Shaun Edwards

After the announcement of Shaun Wane’s departure from Wigan Warriors at the end of 2018 was announced at the beginning of this week, speculation has continued as to whether Shaun Edwards could be the man to take over for 2019 and beyond.

Only last month, Edwards went on record in League Express describing his “burning ambition” to manage in Rugby League.

“I do have an ambition to be the first rugby head coach to win a Championship in rugby union, as I did with Wasps in 2008, and then to do the same in Rugby League,” he revealed.

“That would have been laughed at 30 years ago. I do have a burning ambition to do it. Whether that opportunity arises, I don’t know. That’s up to the clubs in Super League.”

Edwards was also recently the first subject of League Express’ new Q&A column “Rugby League Heroes”, written by Richard de la Riviere. Edwards talked about his extraordinary Rugby League career, which saw him play for Wigan, Balmain Tigers, London Broncos, Bradford Bulls, Lancashire, England, Ireland and Great Britain.

Edwards, who played in every position in the backs, is one of the 25 players in the British Rugby League Hall of Fame. He captained Great Britain. He has been awarded the OBE. And he has won more medals than any other player in history. His father, Jackie, was a great Warrington halfback of the 1950s and 1960s. His brother, Billie-Joe, played for the Wigan Under-21s before his life was tragically cut short in a road-traffic accident in 2003. Since his playing days, Edwards has worked as a coach in rugby union.

RR: How would Shaun Edwards the coach have dealt with Shaun Edwards the player?

SE: Good question! I think I’d have worked with him, not against him. But every now and again, I’d have said we’re going to do this, not that. That’s what good coaches do. There’ll always be some friction in a top team because there are lots of big names with positive egos. People think egos are a bad thing, but they’re not if they’re positive.
Everyone was competing. There’s nothing wrong with some friction and we had some of that at Wigan but, come the big games, it was always focused in the right way.

RR: You captained England Schoolboys in both codes. How did that work?

SE: My rugby master, Steve MacLeod, was miles ahead of his time. He was into player welfare. He’d hold you back. All the lads from St John Fisher talk very highly of him. He’d often send the Rugby League lads on a Lancashire rugby union trial. I was selected and then also for North of England and then England. Me and Richard Gunn, who later played for Leeds and Featherstone, played in the centres. Although I was a Rugby League player, there was no animosity towards me. I was selected as captain and only knew half the rules! But I was always going to play Rugby League.

RR: You are the most decorated man in the sport’s history. Which of your achievements mean most to you?

SE: The thing I’m most proud of is my international career. I didn’t play against Australia as many times as I should have, but I played six and won three. I played nine against New Zealand and lost just one. I was man of the series in 1989, playing in just two of the games. And in 1993 we won the series 3-0.
All I’d thought about was coming up against Gary Freeman again after our second game against them on the 1992 tour. I trained my arse off in preparation to meet him again and he ended up getting dropped for the third Test, so I obviously did okay.

RR: How did you feel when that red card was held up by Graham Annesley at Wembley in 1994?

SE: I thought we’d lose and I would be blamed. I was so pumped up for the game. Bradley Clyde stepped inside me. It wasn’t vicious. It was just a reaction. I remember the lads coming in at half-time, saying “Let’s do it for Giz!” and Ellery saying I’d saved a certain try. But I was on the pitch for 23 minutes and was part of a great win. But if Allan Langer had done that to Ellery in Australia, would he have been sent off? I doubt it.

RR: You played for a variety of coaches. Which have had an influence on your coaching career?

SE: All of them from Alex Murphy to Allan McInnes and Colin Clarke. Graham Lowe was an unbelievable motivator. John Monie always looked so calm! Graeme West was a great coach. He had an unbelievable team in 1994-95 and won every trophy. He picked the right team for the right game. When I retired, I went to Australia to learn how to coach with Wayne Bennett. The RFL paid for me to go. He’s someone I’ve kept in touch with and he helped me so much.

RR: Now you have been a coach, do you have some sympathy for John Dorahy after his season at Wigan?

SE: Not really, no! I worked with Sir Ian McGeechan at Wasps. He had a knighthood, but he still realised he was at a well-oiled machine of a club and he never let his ego get in the way. He came in and saw the processes we had. John didn’t do that. He tried to change it all and put his stamp on everything. I probably have even less sympathy for him now. Some of his tactics were good, but it was a nine-month slog, with us often playing twice a week. Our spare time was our family time, but he’d have us training on Sunday mornings at 8 o’clock, with lads like Kelvin Skerrett having to come over from Yorkshire.

RR: You were in great form in 1996 but were dropped for a while. Why was that?

SE: I did what a lot of older players do. I lost my leg strength and a yard of pace. I lost my support game. And I got dropped. I went away and thought ‘what am I good at’? Scoring tries! So I worked hard in training and got my leg strength back and my pace. If you remember the Premiership semi-final, I beat Robbie Paul in a race to the ball for a try. Eight weeks earlier, I would have never beaten him to that ball.

RR: You left Wigan for personal reasons as your son was in London. Were there rugby reasons too?

SE: No. None. I lost nearly £100,000 over two years in that move. The move was about my son. I had two years left at Wigan on £125,000 and went to London for £85,000.

RR: You had two spells at London Broncos, finishing second in Super League in 1997 and reaching Wembley in 1999. How did it compare to your time at Wigan?

SE: Looking back, I have so much satisfaction over those achievements at the Broncos. Finishing above Wigan, Saints and Leeds in 1997 was fantastic and then getting to Wembley in 1999 was so emotional. I was close to some of the fans and I remember one called John saying he cried as he walked up to the Twin Towers, as he never thought the Broncos would get there.

RR: Robbie Paul once told me that you didn’t fit into the working-class culture at Bradford Bulls. Is that true?

SE: Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but no.

RR: Was Graeme Bradley a reason you left Odsal?

SE: It was nothing to do with the players. Bradford Bulls were such a professional club. The coaching and conditioning were excellent. But I was missing my son. I won’t go into details but I was having difficulty seeing him. It was nothing to do with Graeme Bradley. I can handle people like him. I’ve dealt with plenty of bullies down the years.

RR: You spoke of a desire to coach London Broncos along with Peter Gill. What happened to that and were there other coaching opportunities for you in Rugby League?

SE: We put in for it, but they turned us down. I had no offers I was interested in. Then one came in from Wasps. Geographically, I could be part of my son’s life. Warrington then offered me a two-year deal on more money. Wasps was one year and less money, but I went for it.

RR: What do you remember of your time as a Balmain player in 1989?

SE: It was a disappointing period for me. I was man of the match in the first game, having just got off the plane. In the second game, I high tackled Peter Tunks – I always picked the big ‘uns! I got suspended for a month. Then I tore my hamstring. I finally got fit but couldn’t get back in the team. So I was on the bench. But I came back to England a 20 per cent better player. I was determined to make up for my time there. And that’s when I was named player of the series against New Zealand. It was a very positive experience in learning what you needed to do to be a top-class player.

RR: What do you know of your father’s career?

SE: I know a lot about it. He was the youngest-ever captain at Warrington at 16. Then he got a nasty injury. Friends of his say he was incredibly unfortunate not to play for Great Britain. He’s in the Warrington Hall of Fame. He finished at 24, injured. He still played well over 200 games, having had a year out with injury. That’s not bad!

RR: How did you deal with your brother’s passing? Is it something you have now come to terms with?

SE: My advice to anybody who encounters something horrific like that is to keep yourself busy and try to do some good for others. My job at Wasps was a godsend. It kept me busy. I still struggle with it now. It’ll never go away. There is no cure.

RR: If you could have your time again, would you do anything differently?

SE: It drives me mad that we lost the World Cup Final in 1992. It drives me insane. We had them and then we made two mistakes and we’d lost.

RR: If you could have one day of your Rugby League career again, which would it be?

SE: That’s a tough choice between starting against Australia for the first time in Melbourne when we won by a record margin in 1992 or going to Brisbane with Wigan and winning the World Club Challenge for the third time.

‘Rugby League Heroes’ is a continuing series with great players of the past that features every Monday in League Express, which is available both online and in all good newsagents.