TotalRL’s Mid-Season Awards: Coach of the Year

The regular part season is over and for everyone but the four clubs taking part in the Challenge Cup semi-final, they are having a well-earned break.

But beyond that, we reckon there’ll be a fair few players (and maybe even coaches too), who’ll have had some parties over the weekend celebrating their achievements so far.

So, we feel it’s only right that we get involved too with the celebrations, and although it won’t involve us hitting the tiles in your local nightclub, we’re going to profile the big achievers of this year so far, starting with the top ten coaches of the year.

A five-person panel individually put together their nominations, with all the votes being combined for the final list put together. The people on the panel were:

Matthew Shaw (TotalRL & Rugby League World editor)
Aaron Bower (League Express senior news reporter & Guardian correspondent)
Gareth Walker (League Express’ Championship reporter & Daily Mirror correspondent)
Lorraine Marsden (League Express assistant editor & League 1 reporter)
Alex Davis (Rugby League World features editor)

To kickstart our countdown, we’re heading abroad…

10 – Sylvain Houles

Sylvain Houles has brought Toulouse on quite the journey since taking charge in his early thirties back in 2012.

Back-to-back league titles were the sign of things to come while the club was still in the French league system, but since returning to the English structure, they’ve gone from strength to strength.

They agonisingly missed out on the top four last season, which was their maiden campaign in the Championship following promotion the year before. But they licked their wounds, reinforced their squad, and secured a fantastic top-four finish ahead of established clubs in Leigh and Featherstone.

Houles has done a fantastic job in not only building an effective team around the likes of Mark Kheirallah and Johnathon Ford, but also making Olympique a viable threat in the Qualifiers.

Super League ready? Time will tell, but it’s been an impressive campaign so far.

9 – Daryl Powell

Well first off, Daryl has created history this year. He’s become the first coach in the Super 8s era to not only guide his team to the League Leaders’ Shield, but back it up by avoiding the bottom four! Brian McDermott and Tony Smith suffered that before him.

But far more impressively, of course, has been Castleford’s season overall. Has it been as flashy as last year? Not by a long shot, but given the circumstances, the Tigers should be more than pleased with a third-place finish.

Without Zak Hardaker and last year’s Man of Steel Luke Gale for the majority of the year, Powell has been tasked with evolving his side.

He’s done so impressively. Any coach who can lose two players of such quality and still provide results is doing a pretty good job.

We’ll have to wait until October to see if Powell has learned from last year’s heartbreak, but things are looking promising at the moment.

8 – Shaun Wane

The talk at the start of the year focused largely around Wigan and Shaun Wane’s commitment to change.

After an underwhelming season they were accused of being bland, stale and boring.

Wane promised to change that, and how the Warriors have done. Their form at the start of the season was excellent and the brand of rugby even better.

It might have tailed off somewhat in the past month or so, but Wigan are still showing how clinical they can be.

If they get it right at the end of the year, they could achieve anything.

7 – John Kear

After a decline nobody will want to re-live, it was time for the Bulls to rebuild, regroup and redefine themselves.

Could they have possibly appointed anyone better than John Kear?

The reality is simple. No, they couldn’t. One of the sport’s most reputable, m0st-liked characters was tasked with rejuvenating a club on a downward spiral and pick them up off their feet.

He’s done a very impressive job so far, guiding the Bulls to the top of the table with 17 wins in 19 games.

There’s work to be done, there’s no doubting that. But so far, so good, for John Kear.

6 – Paul Rowley

Coaching abroad with a star-studded sign in one of the world’s most fantastic cities. Paul Rowley lives the dream in the eyes of many.

But the start of the season was anything but easy for Rowley as he went through some painful turbulence that threatened to disrupt the Wolfpack’s inaugural year in the Championship.

A horrendous pre-season that saw countless players injured was coupled with the high-profile exits of Fuifui Moimoi, Dave Taylor and Ryan Bailey.

On the eve of the season they were being dismissed. The bubble had burst, the demise had begun.

Yet here we are, 23 rounds later with the Wolfpack league champions and with just two defeats to their name. An incredible accomplishment given the circumstances, and if Rowley can take the club to Super League, he will silence a lot of critics.

5 – Danny Ward

Danny Ward was given an unenviable, heck in some eyes, an impossible job at the start of the season.

Tasked with succeeding outgoing coach Andrew Henderson after two-and-a-half successful years, Ward was also given a smaller budget that saw Andy Ackers and William Barthau depart to top four rivals.

Certain pundits (we won’t name them but you know who they are), tipped them for a year of struggle. Most thought they’d miss out on the four.

Yet a stunning start and a highly impressive finish saw them finish second in the league for a third straight year.

Impressively, Ward has done it with a number of players that have come through the club’s Academy system, where he has played a pivotal role for years.

4 – Simon Woolford

Huddersfield had seemingly lost the plot when they appointed an unknown Aussie to try and overturn their slow start to the year.

Simon Woolford was a complete unknown over on this side of the world, so his appointment came not only as a huge shock, but entirely underwhelming.

Roll the clocks forward three months and Woolford has overseen an absolutely unfathomable turnaround that has seen the apparent top eight no-hopers finish fifth.

Nine league wins in ten games have seen the Giants become the form team in Super League and the biggest threat to those in the top four.

It has been a simply unbelievable few months for Woolford, and the best could be to come.

3 – James Ford

There’s a movement taking place in the depths of Yorkshire, and at the heart of it, one of Rugby League’s most promising, up-and-coming coaches.

Sometimes, a coach just seems to fit a club. Ford and York go hand in hand. This is a club on the up, a club loved by the hipster, a club with a young, fresh feel. The same can be said of Ford too.

His battle with John Kear has been something out of a Star Wars spin-off, the master against the apprentice.

Ford hasn’t won the battle as such, but the fact he’s guided the Knights to a victory over the Bulls recently has only further lifted his stock.

The club’s decision to make turn him full-time coach has further showcased how highly they rate hin. What happens next is unknown, but both he and York’s future looks very bright indeed.

2 – Richard Marshall

The term ‘defied expectations’ can be used loosely in Rugby League. But for Halifax and Richard Marshall, it doesn’t do their story justice.

Halifax have absolutely no right to be in the Championship’s top four. With a budget dwarfed by those around them, they weren’t given a hope.

But during his four years at Halifax, Marshall has built some characteristics in his side that money cannot buy; heart, passion, belief and desire.

It’s evident when you watch Halifax that their unity can’t be matched. As a team unit, Marshall has built a culture others could only dream of having.

Their top four finish is a huge shock, but by no means a fluke. It’s the third time in four seasons Marshall and his side have punched above their weight.

Adored by his own, admired by the rest, Richard Marshall’s rise up the coaching stratosphere is surely imminent. Will it be with Halifax? Who knows, but Marshall has cemented himself as the game’s brightest coach outside of Super League.

1 – Justin Holbro0k

Was it ever in doubt?

Holbrook picked up 49 points from a possible 50 on offer in this poll, which is a testament to the marvellous job he’s done.

After several years of mediocrity, the Aussie has overseen a transition that has brought back the glory days.

The impressive thing about Holbrook’s time in Saints is his ability to get the best out of not only the likes of Ben Barba, but players such as Dom Peyroux and Jon Wilkin who were scapegoats before his arrival.

Saints aren’t only winning, they’re doing so with style. Holbrook has said all along that he wants two things from his players, hard work and enjoyment, every single player looks to be providing that.

The best thing about Holbrook? He does it all with a smile on his face.