The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Warrington Wolves

1. Blake Austin coached a team of troublemakers to glory.

The star Warrington halfback was the protagonist for Rugby League’s real-life version of the Mighty Ducks in 2013. Mighty Ducks but in reverse, because this time the kids were the bad boys. To contextualise, then 22-year-old Austin had suffered from a foot injury, while playing for Penrith Panthers, and offered his coaching expertise to the Doonside Roos U16s team. They were branded “the uncoachables” because of their persistent ill-discipline and law-breaking off-field antics. This was like coaching an NRL team in the off-season. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time described them as “hurtling towards, at best, limited futures.” That’s heavy. These kids were 15, they must have been a nightmare. But Austin actually had a major impact with the club, for whom his younger brother played, guiding them to a Grand Final success in a 26-16 win over St Clair. Someone make this a film. He returned to coach them the year after, in 2014, even after his return to fitness.

2. Steve Price was given 48 hours’ notice to coach a World Club Challenge.


If Austin’s head-coaching debut wasn’t a handful enough, try Steve Price’s. In 2011, Price was assistant coach to Wayne Bennett when he was given only two days to prepare to take coaching duties for a World Club Challenge. Bennett had returned to Australia to be with his sick mother-in-law, with speculation mounting on his potential departure from the club back to Brisbane Broncos. Price was duly given the first-team mantle, as he had done during the 32-10 Charity Shield win over South Sydney Rabbitohs while Bennett was coaching the NRL All Stars the week previous. Price would see off Wigan Warriors 21-15 in the World Club Challenge game, giving his credentials as Bennett’s predecessor a timely boost. He did just that a year later, replacing the former England coach, after carving his way from assistant of the Dragons’ Jersey Flegg side in 2002, at the age of just 25, to head coach a decade later. Some climb.

3. They once gave head coach Ces Mountford a 10-year contract.

In 1952, Warrington appointed former Wigan player and New Zealand international Ces Mountford on a bumper 10-year contract as head coach. Talk about commitment. The man who was the first overseas recipient of the Lance Todd Trophy inherited a side who had just won Challenge Cup in 1950, defeating Widnes, and had reached the 1951 Championship final, losing to Workington. They would build on that, under Mountford, winning back-to-back Championships in 1953-1954 and 1954-1955, over Halifax and Oldham respectively, while also defeating Halifax in the 1954 Challenge Cup final. The club also won three successive Lancashire Leagues under Mountford, between 1953 and 1956, and won the inaugural ITV Floodlit Competition at the end of that three-year spell. In 1960, they defeated St Helens in the Lancashire Cup final, their first win in the competition for 22 years. The following year they reached the Championship final, losing 25-10 to Leeds. That game turned out to be the final game for Mountford, as he left only a year prematurely from a decade-long contract.

4. Vinnie and Louis Anderson are still playing.

New Zealand internationals and brothers Vinnie and Louis Anderson are still actively playing the sport at a competitive level. Ahead of the 2017 season, after a spell with AS Carcassonne, now 41-year-old Vinnie became the player-coach of French Elite Two side Villeghailhenc-Aragon XIII. The former New Zealand international, who also had spells with St Helens and Salford Red Devils, has since attracted ex-Widnes flier Patrick Ah Van to the side. They have also featured: former Leigh and Cook Islands forward Tyrone Pau, former Whitehaven and Tonga bruiser Saia Makasi and Stefanos Bastas, the Greek international who recently featured for Doncaster and Hemel, in recent years. But ahead of the 2019 season was perhaps Vinnie’s biggest acquisition, his brother Louis, fresh from a 7-year stint at Catalans Dragons and still only 33. Clearly the two, whose other sibling Fraser also played for Brisbane Broncos, Cronulla Sharks and represented Tonga, have set up shop in France for the long haul.

5. They were the first Super League side to give Serbians a shot.

Soni Radovanovic became the first Serbian player to earn a professional contract in the UK, when he signed for Whitehaven in 2009, after initially starting his UK adventure. The Serbian joined amateur side Warrington Wizards in 2006 alongside compatriots Zoran Pesic and Dalibor Vukanovic, who would both later feature for London Skolars’ second team. But five years after Radovanovic’s trailblazing move, Warrington Wolves became the first Super League side to give Serbians a try-out. Dorcol Spiders pair Stefan Nedelkjovic and Stevan Stevanovic spent a month with Tony Smith’s side in July 2014, with the former having a second trial in November that year. Neither player was offered a contract, although Smith did describe them as showing real Championship quality. Since then, Nedelkjovic has gone on to captain ambitious Serbian side Red Star Belgrade, while Stevanovic has featured for Tasmajdan Tigers Belgrade alongside Radovanovic, with both players now key figures in the national squad.