Exclusive: How tough upbringing shaped Shaun Wane as a person – and a coach

Alex Spink
Shaun Wane England Alamy

Shaun Wane shares an emotional moment with Elliott Whitehead after England's 3-0 series win over Tonga in 2023

The future head coach of England stood in a field covered in his own blood and that of his brothers.

Back inside the family home he did not have to wait long for the next beating from his father. And so life went on, day after day.

“If I tell you some of the things I did as a kid,” Shaun Wane begins. “What my dad made me and my brothers do to be competitive, it would make your eyes water.”

Eighteen months have passed since Wane watched as Stephen Crichton dropped the goal which broke English hearts and sent Samoa into the Rugby League World Cup final.

Wane says he is not over it and when you lift the lid and peer into his back story it is easy to understand why.

“All my life I’ve been written off,” he says. “‘You can’t do this, you won’t do that’. I’ve heard it all. 

“I love proving people wrong. I’m so competitive. Whenever I’ve had the chance to do something I’ve done it. Just not that day.

“I’ll never get over that, because I’ll never coach my country in a home World Cup again. My chance has gone. I put everything into winning that World Cup. Everything.”

Wane is able to look ahead now, to the next tournament in 2026. But in the days that followed the loss to an island nation England had thrashed 60-6 in the pool stages, he saw only darkness.

He took himself to Scotland with his wife, his dogs and his demons. “To a very remote place,” he recalls. “Where I drank whiskey and did plenty of walking. 

“I tend to get over things quick, I move on fast. I couldn’t get over that one. We underperformed, I underperformed, on the biggest stage. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad.”

How tough childhood helped shape Shaun Wane as a person, father and coach

Shaun Wane Leeds Alamy
Shaun Wane during his playing days for Leeds in 1992

That is some statement given how he felt – or was made to feel – throughout his childhood, living with a violent father and an absence of any form of comfort.

“Not a lot of people know the detail of it, how I was brought up and the things that happened to me,” he says.

“At school I was free dinners, free uniform, all that. From an early age I was one of them kids who automatically feels different to everyone else because there’s not many of you and a lot more of them. 

“At home we had a field by the side of our house and we would go out, me and my brothers. I was youngest lad and my dad would make us run. I’d have to get my past my brothers and they would absolutely smash hell out of me.

“Then we’d fight. We’d do this for an hour and we’d finish up injured, blood everywhere. We’d do it the day after and the day after that.

“I’ve now got daughters and grandkids, I couldn’t bear see them do anything like that. But we did it every day for years. That was the environment we were in.”

Out of hardship would grow what Wane terms “an inner strength and determination” which has since taken him to extraordinary heights.

But only once he extricated him from that environment, leaving his home at 15 and moving in with the family of girlfriend, now wife, Lorraine.

“I could have stayed and got up to some terrible things,” he admits. “Instead I went to Lorraine’s house where there was food and where I was given my own bed.

“It sounds strange to say but at first I was shocked her dad never hit her, never whacked her. Then I realised I was in a minority and my experience is not how people behave.

“She was loved by her parents, the house was warm. It made me realise what a real family home is. Unquestionably, it shaped me into being a better dad.”

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Being a glass half full person in all aspects of life

Sean O'Loughlin Shaun Wane Liam Farrell Wigan Warriors Alamy
Shaun Wane with Sean O’Loughlin (left) and Liam Farrell (right) after Wigan Warriors’ Grand Final win in 2016

Wane is now 59. His CV features almost 200 appearances as a player for Wigan, Leeds and Great Britain. As coach of Wigan he won three Super League titles, a Challenge Cup and a World Club Challenge.

The days of negative comments made to him by teachers have long gone. Just this last week he was in London giving a talk for a bank to 80 of its biggest clients.

“I spoke and they absolutely loved it,” he says, sounding almost incredulous. “On the train home I said to my daughter that I didn’t understand what it was they liked, as I have a bit of imposter syndrome.

“Her reply was, ‘What you do every day and what’s easy for you, people just don’t do. That’s what they find fascinating’. All I can say is I find it very easy to be honest and blunt and straight because that’s how I like being spoken to. 

“I’m attracted to those sort of people – people with a growth mindset, who want to improve and get better. If you’re a sapper and a negative thinker I won’t be talking to you long. That might sound a bit arrogant but it’s what I believe.”

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England job ‘the pinnacle for me’

Shaun Wane England Alamy
Shaun Wane after England’s test series win over Tonga in 2023

With the next World Cup set to be staged in Australia two years from now, Wane has the ultimate chance to prove people wrong by guiding England to their first title since 1972.

It should come as no surprise he is backing himself and the team to cause an upset, dismissing speculation Down Under linking him to the vacant South Sydney Rabbitohs job to insist his sole focus is England.

“This job is the pinnacle for me,” he says. “I’m very patriotic, a very proud Englishman. When I got the call saying I’d got it there was no prouder man in this country – and I still feel the same way.

“I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t believe England can win the next World Cup. Hand on heart. We’ve got one more shot at it and I promise you this, the players will be prepared. 

“They will be prepared to win the World Cup, absolutely no doubt about that.”

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