6 NRL assistants who thrived in Super League (and 3 who didn’t) after John Cartwright appointment

Aaron Bower

Hull FC’s new coach John Cartwright joins the lengthy list of men to have taken up the reins as a Super League coach having made the leap from an assistant coaching role in the NRL.

Cartwright will certainly hope to fare as well as some of his predecessors in that regard – but not every assistant who’s made the transition to England has done brilliantly. Here’s a look at six who’ve thrived in England – and a handful who perhaps, well, didn’t.

Michael Maguire

Ian Lenagan Michael Maguire Sean O'Loughlin Wigan Warriors 2010 Super League Grand Final Alamy
Ian Lenagan, Michael Maguire and Sean O’Loughlin celebrate Wigan Warriors’ Super League title in 2010 – Alamy

Where else do you start on a list of NRL assistants who came to England and made a huge success of their own careers and the club they inherited than with Michael Maguire?

Having worked as an assistant at Melbourne Storm, Maguire’s head coaching career began in 2010 when he joined Wigan Warriors. In his first season in charge, he led the Warriors to a first Grand Final win in over 10 years, as they beat St Helens at Old Trafford, having also finished top of the table.

Maguire also won the 2011 Challenge Cup, completing the set of domestic trophies inside 18 months in England, before departing to take up a position as head coach at South Sydney.

Justin Holbrook

Justin Holbrook of St Helens

Another who arrived at a club at somewhat of a low ebb – by their own standards, at least – but left having transformed their fortunes, Holbrook is still regarded as one of the finest coaches St Helens have seen.

The assistant to Trent Robinson at Sydney Roosters, Holbrook revolutionised the Saints and in less than three years at the club, won every domestic trophy on offer in the English game. By the time he left at the end of 2019, he had put the Saints on the start of a road to pure dominance, which saw them win four successive Super League titles.

Simon Woolford

However, things didn’t quite work out as well for the next man on this list, former Huddersfield coach Simon Woolford – who joined the club after working as assistant to another ex-Giants coach, Nathan Brown, at Newcastle knights.

The Australian was in England for two seasons but never really got going at the Giants, with Huddersfield finishing ten points off the play-offs in his first season in charge, before a 10th-placed finish in 2019. Woolford announced he would leave Huddersfield at the end of the 2020 season but in September that year, he left with immediate effect.

He hasn’t coached since.

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Kristian Woolf

Kristian Woolf and James Roby St Helens WCC SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

When Holbrook left St Helens at the end of 2019, there was certainly pressure on whoever took over next, given how they were inheriting the defending Super League champions.

It’s safe to say that Woolf, who came in after working as an assistant with Newcastle, handled the pressure! He spent three seasons in England and won the Super League title each and every time, in 2020, 2021 and 2022. He also won the Challenge Cup in the 2021 season, too.

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Steve Price

Steve Price Warrington Wolves Alamy

Although he couldn’t end Warrington’s long wait for a Super League title, it’s safe to say that Price’s time at the Wolves would still be regarded as a success.

Price had experience as both a head coach and assistant during his time in the NRL before he landed at Warrington in 2018. He had an immediate impact, guiding them to both the final of the Challenge Cup and Super League Grand Final, though they came up short on both occasions.

But they fared much better the following season, winning the 2019 Challenge Cup Final.

David Furner

Leeds’ appointment of Furner was heralded as quite a big deal – but it didn’t quite work out as planned.

Having spent time as an assistant at North Queensland and South Sydney, Furner was given the Leeds job for the 2019 season. However, he lasted just 16 games in England with the Rhinos before having his contract terminated. He is now once again back working as an assistant in Australia with the Rabbitohs.

Matthew Elliott

Elliot was an assistant to Brian Smith on both sides of the world; first at the Dragons in Australia before moving to England to join him at Bradford. When Smith left at the end of 1996, Elliot took up the reins: and made a monumental impact at Odsal, building on the foundations laid down by Smith.

In 1997, Elliot guided the Bulls to the Super League title – the last time it was decided by the team finishing top before the Grand Final debuted the following year. They also won the Challenge Cup in 2000 and just like Smith before him, Elliot laid foundations which Brian Noble was able to build upon after his departure, when he returned to Australia to join the coaching staff at Canberra.

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Trent Robinson

One of the most successful coaches of the modern era, Robinson’s beginnings as a head coach weren’t actually with Catalans, they were with Toulouse in the mid-2000s.

But after returning to Australia to serve as an assistant at two different clubs, he returned to France with Catalans in 2011. Although they didn’t win silverware during his time in charge, he revolutionised Les Dracs, taking them from last to sixth and earning the Super League Coach of the Year accolade.

That earned him his move back to Australia to take up the Sydney Roosters job – where he remains to this day, a decade later.

Matt Parish

Matt Parish Samoa News Images

It’s safe to say Parish’s first foray into coaching wasn’t exactly how he or Salford would have planned it. He joined the club from North Queensland Cowboys, where he worked as an assistant, in June 2011. But after taking charge in July, just a few months later, he had resigned and returned to Australia!

Parish was hugely critical of the club’s management according to reports at the time – and he returned Down Under to take up a role as assistant at Manly. He is best remembered to English rugby league fans, though, as the man who masterminded England’s downfall in the 2022 Rugby League World Cup as head coach of Samoa.

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