Peter Smith: Giants’ pursuit of an Australian coach continues worrying trend

Castleford Tigers' Daryl Powell and Danny Orr. Picture: Matthew Merrick.
Castleford Tigers' Daryl Powell and Danny Orr. Picture: Matthew Merrick.
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UNLESS YOU were paying very close attention, you may have missed the fact Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has announced he will step down at the end of the season.

This news generated very little coverage. However, what it did receive tended to focus on the fact that when Wenger arrived at Arsenal – way back in the previous century – the reaction from everybody was “Arsene who?”.

Batley's head coach Matt Diskin.

Batley's head coach Matt Diskin.

Who? Is a question being asked in rugby league circles following revelations Simon Woolford is set to be named as Huddersfield Giants’ next coach.

That’s a bit harsh on somebody who made more than 250 appearances as a player in the NRL, but in coaching terms, a big name he is not.

If it is confirmed – the Yorkshire Evening Post understands Woolford has been offered the job after David Kidwell was also interviewed – the appointment will raise some worrying questions about the future for up-and-coming British coaches.

That is not a personal slight on Woolford, who may turn out to be a quality coach.

What future is there for the likes of Willie Poching (who has been here long enough to qualify as British), Francis Cummins, Danny Orr, Ryan Sheridan or any of the other home-based assistants who are currently doing a good job in the top flight?

Peter Smith

He had some success with Queanbeyan Blues in the Canberra Rugby League and is now in charge of Newcastle Knights’ New South Wales Cup team, who were bottom of the table at the time of writing.

At Newcastle he works alongside former Giants boss Nathan Brown, who is understood to rate him highly.

Brown knows Betfred Super League – having also coached St Helens – and is aware of what is needed to bring success to Huddersfield.

Good luck to Woolford, but it is the implications of his predicted appointment that are disappointing. Woolford has the advantage of an Aussie accent and that is regarded by some in the sport as a qualification.

Featherstone's head coach John Duffy.

Featherstone's head coach John Duffy.

He may have plans which will turn Giants’ flagging fortunes around and they are entitled to appoint whomever they think is best for their club, but it is a worrying trend.

British-based assistant-coaches sometimes step up to the head role. Hull’s Lee Radford is a good example of someone who served an apprenticeship as an assistant and then got the big job.

But when was the last time a Super League club took a chance on an assistant-coach from a rival outfit?

Brian McDermott was assistant to Tony Smith at Leeds Rhinos when he got the Harlequins role in 2006, but it rarely happens.

Of course it would be a gamble to appoint somebody who is untested at the top level, but clubs are prepared to take a chance on Aussies with no senior experience as a top-level head coach, so why not British assistants?

What future is there for the likes of Willie Poching (who has been here long enough to qualify as British), Francis Cummins, Danny Orr, Ryan Sheridan or any of the other home-based assistants who are currently doing a good job in the top flight? Castleford Tigers may well look to either Orr or Sheridan when Daryl Powell eventually moves on, but he is likely to be there in the long-term and, at some stage, his deputies may want to test themselves at the top level.

They might get a go in the Championship. It has worked for Matt Diskin at Batley Bulldogs. He joined them at a difficult time, after the best season in their recent history and it took about half a season for him to get his ideas across, but since then Batley have done well on very limited resources.

But however well Diskin does, there’s little chance of him getting a Super League gig.

Powell is an example of a coach appointed at a Super League club after coaching in the lower division and he has been an outstanding acquisition, but it is not his first time at the elite level.

There are some good, young coaches outside Super League and they need somebody to be willing to take a chance.

John Duffy did a solid job at Swinton Lions and his part-time Featherstone Rovers side are tearing it up in the Betfred Championship. James Ford is building a big reputation in charge of League One York City Knights, and Danny Ward (London Broncos) and Richard Marshall (Halifax) are other examples.

It would be good to see some of them given an opportunity, because if they are – and prove successful – they will start a trend.