Warrington are looking for another new head coach after sacking Daryl Powell, but many Wolves fans believe the problems run far deeper.
The 58-year-old’s sacking on Sunday night was as inevitable as his parting shot was explosive, a remarkable end to a tetchy relationship that seemed to have been healed as Warrington rose to the Super League summit two months ago.
But a horrible 42-6 humiliation at bottom side Wakefield was a sixth successive defeat and an eighth loss in nine. It was the prelude to Powell’s last stand, a press conference he knew served as his farewell, in which he highlighted deep issues at the club that he had demanded be resolved but had not, while labelling playing staff “appalling”, “shocking”, “ridiculous” and unable to take criticism on the chin.
- Refs stand firm in Super League
- Rovers dethrone Wigan to reach Betfred Challenge Cup final
- Next permanent Warrington Wolves coach odds*
This was a parting shot rather than a rallying call and very few coaches continue in the job after turning on their players like this. Powell was gone within hours.
So the former Castleford boss, courted by Warrington and appointed ahead of the 2022 season following an “exhaustive search”, leaves just 50 games later with a 42% win ratio. Only two Warrington coaches have fared worse.
Last season’s 11th-placed finish under Powell was their lowest in the Super League era. The board were patient, allowing Powell to discard bad apples, to reshape and rebuild the team. That seemed to have been rewarded as an opening run of eight wins on the spin took the Wolves top of the table. Powell, revitalised, was the man of the moment, happily posing for selfies with adoring Wolves fans and joining them for pints in the pubs around the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
But it has all fallen away, ending with a whimper at Wakefield, whose win ironically drags Powell’s former club Castleford right into the relegation mire. The toothless Tigers have now lost four on the spin and a return to The Jungle for Powell - where Andy Last is currently in charge - may not be the ludicrously left-field suggestion that it would initially appear.
So what went wrong for Powell, what is wrong at Warrington and what is the fix?
“We still firmly believe this playing group have the ability to compete at the highest level,” said chairman Stuart Middleton in the club statement, pointing a telling figure at the head coach for being unable to get the best out of them.
But is that fair?
Clearly the players were not playing for Powell at Wakefield and he was more than happy to throw them under the bus afterwards. But these same players were playing for their coach four months ago when they were top of the Betfred Super League, and Powell hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to coach or manage them since.
In that respect I have a huge amount of sympathy for Powell who ultimately felt he was left trying to get blood out of a stone.
And what about this key nugget from Powell’s farewell tirade?
“I was asked when I came into this club to do two things: to create accountability and get rid of the sense of entitlement. I felt there were some strong things that needed to be fleshed out within the club and the squad. Up to this point, clearly that hasn’t been sorted.”
Many Wolves fans think that changing the coach - as welcome and necessary as this move feels - is not getting to the crux of a problem that starts higher up.
One angry Warrington supporter even messaged me to say this feels like “soiling your pants but changing your shirt”.
There seems a growing frustration at the hierarchy and in particular chief executive officer Karl Fitzpatrick - a former player, educated into life in the boardroom, but who has overseen this most inconsistent of periods in the club’s Super League history since his appointment ahead of the 2017 season. It was notable that a big chunk of disgruntled comments under the club’s announcement of Powell’s departure, were aimed at Fitzpatrick.
“Fitzpatrick next please”, “Scapegoating the wrong person”, “Nothing will change unless the people above the coach are changed too”. It wasn’t pretty reading.
Only Warrington will know the true dynamic between coach and those above him in terms of who sources the players, but Warrington’s recruitment has clearly been way off for some time. And that could be said not only for the quality of player offloaded - Mike Cooper and Josh Charnley for example - but also the quality of coaching staff. Andrew Henderson and club legend Lee Briers, two highly-regarded coaches, were collateral damage in the Powell appointment. Both felt their departures were handled badly. The end to Briers’ 25-year love affair with Warrington was communicated in a meeting lasting just a few seconds, he says.
Henderson himself was left frustrated at the lack of an obvious DNA at Warrington, and it feels like that issue persists.
There are always other excuses too, and the Josh McGuire saga has had a hugely detrimental affect on the campaign. 19 games worth of bans inside of five months for using unacceptable language was not on the menu when the club swooped for the now-departed Australian forward. Warrington haven’t won since his departure.
So who is the next man in?
Justin Holbrook is the early favourite with title sponsors Betfred, with the former Gold Coast Titans head coach available for an immediate start. The former St Helens boss appears the top choice with fans too, but my understanding is that Holbrook - as it stands - would not take the Warrington job. His preference is to remain in the NRL.
Club legend Briers is the inevitable link too, but I’m told there is no chance he would take the role either. Briers and his family are loving life in Brisbane and he has no desire to return to the UK just yet, having only been there since the end of 2022, not least to a club that cast him adrift and is in no better shape since.
A shrewder choice therefore may be the Newcastle Knights boss Adam O’Brien or even former Hull KR boss Justin Morgan, currently assistant at New Zealand Warriors.
Interestingly Newcastle met with O’Brien on Monday morning to offer assurances over his position after Holbrook was linked to the Knights.
Whoever the new Wire coach is he is likely to have to start from scratch again rather than slotting into a well-oiled machine.
*18+ | Be Gamble Aware