Noble pursuit bears fruit as Wigan get their man

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The Independent Online

Wigan have got their man - with a promise to Brian Noble that he will get the time and resources to sort out the mess at the code's most famous club.

Bottom of Super League, with only one win in 10 games, Wigan sacked Ian Millward last week. Now, eight days after the initial approach was made, they have persuaded Noble to leave Bradford, where he has been, man and boy, for almost three decades.

"Wigan is both a great challenge and opportunity," Noble said before taking over preparation for tomorrow's match at Huddersfield. "The club has a special place in rugby league history and most people in the game would like the opportunity to be in charge.

"I've had the most wonderful time at Bradford, both as a player and a coach, and it's obviously a wrench to leave a club where I have been involved for such a long time. I feel sure that the team is in good shape and they will be very tough to beat. The club is set for a successful future.

"I would not have dreamed of leaving for any normal coaching role, but Wigan means a lot in rugby league and I would like to help the club to return to winning ways. I can't wave a magic wand and fix things overnight. The club understand that and everyone will be working together to gradually improve."

The Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay, who has presided over the coming and going of seven coaches in the seven years since he returned to the club, echoed the same theme.

"We have told him he will have all the support in the world, including time, to restructure the side and make Wigan competitive again," he said. "I have known Brian since his days as a player and his commitment to the game is second to none."

Noble's decision will come as a big disappointment to Bulls fans, who demonstrated before, during and after the match against Huddersfield on Tuesday how badly they wanted him to stay.

Those supporters blame the club's chief executive, Gareth Davies, whose handling of Wigan's initial approach seems to them to be tantamount to showing him the door. The Bulls insisted yesterday, after holding a long meeting with him on Wednesday, that "every effort was made by the board and the chief executive to persuade Brian to see out the rest of his contract. However, it was Brian's wish to leave at this time."

Noble, who is expected to carry on, at least for this year, as Great Britain coach, departed with the telling words: "It's not me that has brought this about." But it will have taken more than one clash with a club employee to bring a man who signed for Bradford in 1978, played over 400 games for them and spent only a short spell at Wakefield away from the club to this point.

He has been unhappy with the club's direction for months and will know more than most about its parlous financial situation and the limitations likely to be imposed in the future. The Bulls lost £600,000 in 2004, ran at a loss again last year and are beset by rumours that they are preparing to unload players - to Wigan.

A feeling also exists that, with eight trophies in five years, there is little more to achieve at Odsal. This has been the Golden Age of the Bulls - now the bills are coming in. Wigan are a different matter. Their decline has been precipitous over the last two seasons. Noble has backed himself to be the man to halt the slide, finding the lure of reviving a fallen giant one of the most seductive prospects in sport.

He has been given a two-and-a-half-year contract, although other Wigan coaches, up to and including Millward, have found they cannot be guaranteed time to finish what they started.

At Bradford, Noble's assistant, Steve McNamara - "a terrific young coach," according to Noble - becomes the youngest head coach in Super League at 34. Likely to be offered a three-year contract, the former player with Hull, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield as well as Great Britain, turned down the coaching vacancy at Hull two weeks ago.

He was promised then that he would be Noble's successor - something else that must have made Noble feel that he was being ushered towards the exit - but can hardly have expected his chance to come so soon.