'Nobby' heads the Waite list for top job

Great Britain's head coach is going nowhere now, but his successor is obvious. Dave Hadfield explains
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The Independent Online

David Waite's final task when his contract with the Rugby League ends in two years' time will be to nominate a successor as Great Britain coach. Much can happen before then – much already has in Waite's first year in the job – but, if the baton was being passed tomorrow, the logical man to carry it on the next lap would be Brian Noble.

Noble, along with Castleford's Graham Steadman, is an assistant to Waite during the Guinness Test series against Australia – and nothing has happened yet to shake the conviction that he is being groomed for bigger and better things.

Noble already had the form on the board, after leading Bradford to the Super League title in his first season in charge, but he was not certain how much he would enjoy being involved with the national squad.

For one thing, it was a return to being somebody's number two – as he had been at Bradford for five years. For another, he had not been involved with Great Britain since captaining the tour to Australia 17 years ago and he feared it might be too jarring a change from the way he is used to working with his club.

"But I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would – and I've learned a few things as well," he says.

After the First Test victory over Australia, Waite made the equivalent of an Oscar speech, thanking the backroom staff who had contributed to it, but Noble is useful in the public eye as well as out of sight.

When the Great Britain camp wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike at the way they feared the Australian referee, Bill Harrigan, would control the Second Test, for instance, it was a job for Nobby, as he is well known. If Waite tends to come over as a rather lofty technocrat, then Noble's populist touch is invaluable.

There has been a change in club coaching at the élite level in Britain, with half of Super League under the control of Englishmen next season – several of them with the potential to be Great Britain coaches of the future – after an era of Australasians monopolising the top jobs.

But there is no doubt that Noble is ahead of the field. With Bradford this year, he achieved what his Australian predecessors, Brian Smith and Matthew Elliott, had so often failed to do, by sending his players into big matches relaxed enough to express themselves.

That is also likely to have been one of his contributions with Great Britain. When the atmosphere in the camp has been rather tense, he is the man with the light touch to lift the mood. "As a number two, you can have a different relationship with the players."

Noble says he has learned from Waite's attention to detail. "David is a very good planner and doesn't like to leave anything to chance," he says. "It's similar to what we do at Bradford, so it's not a big surprise to me.

"There are things I've picked up that will be useful to me at club level, but I'd like to think that the players have picked up something from me as well."

Noble is aware that he is already being spoken of as a potential successor, but emphasises that Waite still has two years to complete his part of the job.

"I think that the coaches I worked under at Bradford will tell you that the one thing you get from me is loyalty," he said. "You don't have to look over your shoulder thinking that I'm after your job. But, at the end of that, I'd be flattered if people thought I had something to offer."

The furore about appointing an Australian coach has died down. The next one will be a Pom and, with all due respect to the likes of Steadman and Widnes' Neil Kelly, the smart money now would be on it being Noble.