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Who is Australia's greatest rugby league coach?

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Roar Guru
27th April, 2020
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Rugby league has a rich history of coaches who have one or two premierships to their name but longevity in the game is a trait that only the very best can boast.

Debate often rages as to how we rate the greatness of players and coaches and the one variable that most agree on is that you cannot compare different eras.

Who is to say that today’s fully professional players are better than those of yesteryear that could not put all of their efforts into their sport of choice due to work?

Before the game had the riches Super League War bought with it, most players had a job to go to each day before going to training at night. The same can be said for coaches.

The modern mentor has a support team larger than the amount of people breaking a COVID-19 beach curfew. They are also not burdened with driving the delivery truck which pays the wage that puts food on the table.

While having no set criteria for this list, success and longevity are two stand out features that all enjoyed. This is not a definitive list but a conversation starter.

Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson are at the top of their game at the moment but do not make the cut. Robinson hasn’t been around long enough and Bellamy has only two premierships to his name.

TIM SHEENS
4 Premierships – 669 games, 340 wins, 11 draws, 318 losses – 50.62 per cent
A mentor at four NRL clubs as well two in the UK Super league, Sheens was also a successful coach of the Kangaroos.

Highly spoken of by his former players, Sheens changed the clubs he coached at and made less talented players perform above their station.

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JACK GIBSON
5 Premierships – 394 games, 245 wins, ten draws, 139 losses – 62.18 per cent
No list of greatest ever coaches is complete without the name Jack Gibson. A pioneer that many others try to emulate but could never better, Gibson only lasted a few years at each club before he moved on. Maybe that was his secret.

Famous for the fur coat during the Parramatta era, Jack Gibson was a personality coach who’s turn of phrase in the commentary box was legendary.

Wayne Bennett and Jack Gibson

Wayne Bennett and former ‘super’ coach Jack Gibson at the book launch of Brisbane Rugby League Coach Wayne Bennett’s autobiography at the Australian Museum. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

JACK RAYNER
Five Premierships – 216 games, 121 wins, four draws, 91 losses – 56.02 per cent
A South Sydney legend, Jack Rayner steered the Rabbitohs to great success in the early to mid 1950s. Taking a team that after the war was regarded as Souths’ worst ever, he transformed them into a side that won five titles. Unfortunately that success came to an end when the might Dragons of the era started to come to prominence.

KEN KEARNEY
5 Premierships – 284 games, 168 wins, five draws, 111 losses – 59.15 per cent
A duel international with seven Wallaby Tests to his name Ken Kearney came from the great St George premiership factory of the 50s and 60s.

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Kearney introduced the Dragons to a ruthless professionalism that was the trademark of their success of their halcyon days.

NORM PROVAN
Four Premierships – 181 games, 124 wins, eight draws, 49 losses – 68.51 per cent
Sticks was one player who should have become an Immortal years before it actually happened. A champion with the legendary St George sides of the 60s, he has been cast in bronze on past and the current NRL premiership trophies with his Wests opponent Arthur Summons.

A gentleman both on and off the field, Norm Proven stands tall in the world of rugby league and still the only coach to win four premierships in the first four years he was in charge.

Norm Provan

Norm Provan (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

ARTHUR HOLLOWAY
8 Premierships – 286 games, 178 wins, 17 draws, 91 losses – 62.24 per cent
Arthur who? Not widely know but Arthur Holloway came from the captain/coach era just after the Great War. He coached at five clubs with his greatest success coming with the Newtown club, Holloway also holds the record for most consecutive wins by a coach at 35.

WAYNE BENNETT
7 Premierships – 838 games, 520 wins, 14 draws, 304 losses – 62.06 per cent
Rightfully ranked the greatest rugby league coach of them all, Wayne Bennett is a student and historian of the game who appreciates the attributes of those who have come before him.

His players love him as a mentor in life more so than rugby league, his record of seven premierships while only losing one is an achievement not to be ignored.

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