For all the things that coaches can do right behind the scenes, the stark reality of professional sport is that to be rated among the best of the best, you need to be leading teams to Premierships. Few get the chance to do it, but there are a handful who have enjoyed more than their fair share of Grand Final glory, and these are the most successful NRL coaches in history. It’s worth noting that in a bygone era players were regularly given the role of captain/coach, but this list refers to those who exclusively coached their side.
1. Wayne Bennett
Bennett is generally viewed not just as one of the greatest rugby coaches in history, but one of the greatest ever in sport, and with seven Premierships that title is well-deserved. He first led the Broncos to Premiership success in 1992 and 1993, before doing it again in 1997 in the Super League, 1998, 2000 and 2006. After 532 games with the Broncos he moved to St. George Illawarra, and lo and behold in his second year there they won the Premiership. Now aged 71 he is still coaching, and his Rabbitohs are one of the NRL Grand Final favourites as he hunts for an eighth Grand Final win.
2. Jack Gibson
Jack Gibson was renowned for his innovation and influence on the art of coaching in rugby league, and in the decade between 1974 and 1983 he incredibly coached exactly half of the Premiership winners. He started with the Eastern Suburbs, leading them to back-to-back wins in 1974 and 1975. He would coach numerous teams in the coming years, with the most notable stint being his three years with Parramatta Eels which yielded three Premierships. He ended his career having coached 394 games at six different clubs, and boasted a very impressive winning strike rate of 62%.
3. Arthur Hallowayee
Many would argue that Halloway deserves to be at the top of this list, and technically with eight Premiership wins he is the most successful NRL coach in history. However, the four he won with Balmain came as player/coach, so with our criteria he has been shoved down the list a little. Regardless, four Premierships exclusively as a coach is nothing to sneeze at. After leading Balmain to four Premierships in five years between 1916 and 1920 as player/coach, he added to the tally after his playing career had ended. He coached Eastern Suburbs for eight seasons sporadically between 1930 and 1947, and in half of them he led them to a Premiership.
4. Tim Sheens
After 166 games as a player with the Panthers, Tim Sheens moved into a coaching role at the club just one season after his retirement, a move which was indicative of the esteem in which he was held there. It didn’t pan out, and after four years he left the club, but his coaching career had only just begun. He moved to the Canberra Raiders, who he would lead to a Premiership in 1989, 1990 and 1994, before he rounded out his career in the NRL with a fourth in 2005 as the head of the Wests Tigers.
A number of other coaches sit on par or just below this group. Clive Churchill led the Rabbitohs to four Premierships in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Charlie Lynch did the same in the ‘20s and ‘30s, while Ken Kearney (six), Jack Rayner (five) and Norm Provan (four) all won plenty as player/coaches. In terms of which coach has won the most NRL Premierships, however, Wayne Bennett stands alone, and at the ripe old age of 71, he still has time to add to his seven Grand Final wins.