UpFront: The key coaching decision ahead for St Helens

No side has been more successful in the Super League era than St Helens.

The club has made the play-offs every year in which it’s been possible – this will be the 25th, the first two seasons being followed by the old-style Premierships – and have so far won nine titles, one more than Leeds Rhinos.

There have also been eight Challenge Cup triumphs, and two in the World Club Challenge, with Brisbane Broncos beaten in both 2001 and 2007.

The honours already listed (and we haven’t gone into League Leaders’ Shield successes) have been claimed by seven different coaches – Shaun McRae (three), Ellery Hanley (one), Ian Millward (five), Daniel Anderson (five), Nathan Brown (one), Justin Holbrook (one) and Kristian Woolf (three).

That’s testament to the hard work which has gone on in the background to ensure the smooth running of the club – including succession planning when it comes to picking the best man to lead the team.

Far more often than not, Saints have got it right, and now Woolf has confirmed he is leaving – possibly on the back of his third title and the club’s fourth in a row, which would be unprecedented in the Summer era – it will be very interesting to see who takes over.

While Woolf works with Wayne Bennett at new NRL club Dolphins next year, having led Tonga in the forthcoming World Cup, whoever follows him in the Saints hot seat will be tasked with keeping the club as the top dogs of Super League.

Will it be current assistant coach Paul Wellens, a Saints legend who has certainly served his apprenticeship, and has been warmly praised by Woolf, or will there be another import from Down Under?

With Wigan Warriors impressing under Matt Peet, Huddersfield Giants, with Ian Watson at the helm, harbouring serious ambitions, and Leeds, resurgent under Rohan Smith, among those who have designs on knocking Saints off their perch, whoever Woolf’s successor is will have his work cut out.

Of course, while the regular Super League season might have finished – Garry Schofield reviews the performance of each of the twelve clubs in his latest Pulling No Punches column on page twelve – the play-offs are looming.

And there’s plenty to look forward to, not least seeing if Salford Red Devils, who it’s fair to guess are probably the favourites of most neutrals – can reach a second Grand Final in four years or whether Watson, the man who took them there last time, can bring a first top-flight title to Huddersfield since 1962.

Can Wigan put cherry and white ribbons in the trophy or Catalans Dragons carry it off to France, or could Leeds end up triumphant?

Bring it on!

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