Denis Betts explains why he jumped at Wigan Warriors return and his coaching comeback

Ross Heppenstall
Denis Betts Wigan Warriors Alamy

Wigan Warriors women's head coach Denis Betts

Denis Betts never took a backward step during a glittering playing career which saw him lift every trophy on offer with Wigan.

But standing in front of 30 women for the first time as the new head coach of the Warriors’ women’s team was another challenge altogether.

As a skilful and fiercely competitive second-rower who represented Great Britain, Betts was one of the best players of his generation.

The 54-year-old won six league titles, seven Challenge Cups, three Premierships and two World Club Challenges as a player in a total of 367 appearances in the famous cherry and white of Wigan.

Last autumn, when the opportunity presented itself to become the Warriors’ women’s team for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, he took it.

“Wigan means everything to me,” Betts, a father of five daughters, tells Love Rugby League.

“Without rugby league in general and Wigan especially, I wouldn’t have achieved anything in my life.

“And that’s a bold statement because I never know where I might have gone without this club.

“But Wigan gave me every opportunity and I love the town.

“My children are Wiganers, my wife’s a Wiganer and I’d like to think that, even though I’m born and bred in Salford, there’s a part of me that’s also part of Wigan.”

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Denis Betts ‘energised’ by the Women’s Super League competition

After hanging up his boots, Betts moved into coaching and served Wigan as caretaker coach for 38 games in 2004 and 2005.

Then came a successful spell coaching in rugby union with Gloucester before returning to league for roles at Widnes Vikings, the England men’s team and Newcastle Thunder.

Betts’ appointment was driven by Wigan’s desire to develop the women’s game and challenge St Helens, Leeds Rhinos and York Valkyrie for silverware.

Wigan-born billionaire Mike Danson took over the Warriors at the end of last season and chief executive Kris Radlinski is overseeing the club’s move into a new era.

Betts, who captained England in their 1995 World Cup final defeat to Australia at Wembley, explains: “I’m energised by the challenge, by the girls and by the Women’s Super League competition – and what it could be.

“To get excited about a project you have to see potential in it and I certainly do here with Wigan’s women’s team.

“I see a fantastic future ahead and the seeds of this project have been planted in the ground and everyone has worked really hard to get things going.

“We have to feed that, develop it and work hard to make sure that the girls get opportunities going forward.

“It’s an exciting prospect for anyone who wants to get involved in the game.

“I have five daughters and women’s rugby league is about giving girls the opportunity to express themselves in the women’s game.

“We need to treat the women players as individuals and stars in their own right – let’s look at what opportunities we can create for them as a group.

“People say ‘what’s the biggest difference with the men’s game?’ and I say ‘well, they’re women’, so it’s a completely different place to come from.

“My daughters are encouraging and I think they wanted to talk to me a little bit more now.

“Now I’m in a room with 30 women rather than five, but as a club and as an organisation it was exciting when Kris Rads came to me about the role.

“The new owner, Mike Danson, wants to promote rugby league in all aspects of the club through the women’s team, the wheelchair side, and the PDRL team.

“He wants to create platforms where all these teams can really excel so that was exciting for me because Mike wants to make something and grow it.

“How are we going to compensate the girls with the payment system we put in place?

“How do we level up with the boys and girls academies so that they look exactly the same with the same opportunities?

“What we’re doing with the facilities across the men’s and women’s teams is going to be exactly the same.

“There will be no difference in those kinds of things and that’s exciting in building for the future of the sport.”

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Denis Betts: ‘I love coaching, it’s what I do – I’m a coach’

Rachel Thompson Wigan Warriors Alamy
Rachel Thompson in action for Wigan Warriors

Betts was looking for a new challenge after leaving Newcastle Thunder at the end of the 2022 season following three years at Kingston Park as financial troubles hit.

“I love coaching, it’s what I do – I’m a coach,” he adds.

“What happened at Newcastle was just very unfortunate through the ownership and sport in general.

“Things can change in an instant and a five-year plan turns into a nine-month project.

“Strange things can happen but it didn’t affect me in any way and I just wanted to look for another opportunity.

“An exciting opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often.

“It’s completely different in terms of the team I’m now in charge of, but it’s exactly the same because I’m still coaching.

“As a coach, it challenges me on lots of different level because I’ve not coached women before, at this level and women in rugby league.

“But knowing the game, knowing people and how to structure things, knowing how to motivate, create good habits and knowing how to put a plan into place.

“They’re all things that are helping me, but obviously getting myself into a room with 30 women is learning how to coach.”

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Helping run a Post Office by day, being a head coach by night

Betts has other interests in his life and helps his wife Gaynor to run the village Post Office, shop and café in Newburgh, a sleep village in West Lancashire.  

He explains: “That’s my wife’s business and we’ve got a couple of other things going on as well which work in pretty close harmony.

“Coaching Wigan Warriors women’s team is not a full-time role, although my wife will tell you differently!

“But when you get involved in coaching you become fully immersed in it.

“It’s not something that you do part-time, it’s something that goes on all the time. At the moment, things are going well.”

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‘What Wigan want to do is to be the market leaders’

It is an exciting time to be at Wigan as Matt Peet’s men seek to build on last season’s Super League title and this year’s World Club Challenge.

On Friday, April 19, history will be made as the women’s team play at the DW Stadium for the very first time, taking on Barrow Raiders Ladies in the opening round of the 2024 Betfred Women’s Super League (5:30pm K.O.)

The men’s fixture will then follow as Wigan welcome Castleford Tigers in Round 8 of Betfred Super League

Betts adds: “That’s incredibly exciting to be a part of.

“Matty has set the tone about what it means to be a Wigan coach because he’s been around the club for so long under numerous head coaches.

“Kris Radlinski has got massive ambition and is driven to put the club and the sport in the limelight and at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“What Wigan want to do is to be the market leaders. There are a lot of ambitious, driven people at Wigan who love the game, love the club and want to see it prosper.

“With the women’s team, we’re determined to play our part.”

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