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Dolphins, new coach, Wayne Bennett, Kristian Woolf, recruitment, Super League, record

On the surface, it looks like a miracle play that ends James Graham’s fairy tale.

But the man himself tells a different story. The 2020 Super League Grand Final was only two years ago when St Helens half-back Tommy Makinson scored the breakaway goal when the scores were level at 4-all.

Saints and Wigan looked destined for history, seconds apart from becoming the first teams to send the Super League decider to the golden point.

But Jack Welsby, the youngest player in the field, had other ideas.

Christian Woolf, St Helens Head Coach Jack Welsby and St Helens James Robbie share the trophy. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
James Graham (left) played under Wolfe. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The drop goal hit the upright and went into the goal area with Wigan fullback Bevan French on the cover.

Welsby, though, came out of nowhere to touch down the ball, planting it inches from the touchline and sealing a memorable title for St Helens.

This was their second-straight but the first under the new coach Christian Woolf, brought to replace Justin Holbrook, who received a new role back in Australia with the Gold Coast Titans.

Welsby may have made all the headlines that night, but Wolff was the unsung hero, Graham explained.

“He was always training for violence,” Graham said.

“Of course, a game of rugby league can bring about turbulent times where there are many variables happening at once, some of which you can control, some of which you can’t.

I mean, if you go back and watch the 2020 Grand Final and you see Jack Welsby’s try, if there’s one thing I can say, it wasn’t a fluke.

“If you watch her play St Helens that year and you follow her closely, you’ll see that it wasn’t just fortune or being in the right place at the right time. There was more to it than that.

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Christian Wolff is a wanted man. (Photo by Louis Storey/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The Dolphins, the NRL’s new franchise, are said to be offering Wolfe a multi-year deal to join the club next season before replacing Wayne Bennett as head coach in 2025.

“They’re high on my priority list,” Bennett told Graham on ‘The Bye Round Podcast’ this week.

“I’ve got good raps on Christian, I think he’s done a good job.”

While he did not want to comment on any links to the Dolphins, Graham Woolf gave a fascinating insight into why he is one of the most sought-after names in NRL circles.

After all, the Warriors had pursued Wolfe earlier this year when he and his family were keen to return to Australia, so the 47-year-old knocked that job down.

“I don’t want to talk about speculation,” Graham said of his relationship with the Dolphins.[but] I think it’s a no-brainer if Christian Wolff takes over a head coaching job in the NRL.

“It doesn’t matter who or what the situation is,” Graham added.

“I believe it has a huge impact on a club and will go a long way to providing a successful environment.”

Wolff has a proven record overseas, having led St Helens to back-to-back Super League and Challenge Cup crowns since taking over from Holbrook. This comes with its own set of challenges, especially the prospect of sustaining success.

Now St Helens are looking to become the first team in the Super League era to win four consecutive titles.

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“He took over a championship-winning team, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do,” Graham said.

Since then they have bounced back and won the Challenge Cup [now] They have a chance to win a fourth-straight title, which I believe will make history.

“They’ve got the chance to do it, obviously to run under the bridge with water and play football, but that’s never been done before. There are many Australian coaches who have gone there and been nowhere near as successful as Christian Wolff and have come back and been successful here.

When you throw this in with the added benefit of his success with the Tongan national team, it’s no wonder why so many clubs are looking at him. What he has done speaks for itself.

Woolf has plenty of experience in and out of the NRL. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Some people may be quick to dismiss their successes in Super League, although it’s hard to ignore just how dominant St Helens have been under Wolfe.

In 2011, you coached the North Queensland Cowboys to their first finals at NeoC level, adding to his experience in NRL systems.

Two years later, Wolfe was assistant coach of the Brisbane Broncos before returning to North Queensland, where he was the first coach of the new Interest Super Cup side – the Townsville Blackhawks.

In his first season, Wolff took the Blackhawks to the top of the table and eventually to the Grand Final.

Three years later he became an assistant coach in the NRL, this time at Newcastle Knights, before moving overseas to St Helens.

Amidst all this, he turned Tonga into an international powerhouse, with Graham describing his work with that team as “fantastic”.

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“He had some comfortable players but he pushed them, pushed them, rallied them,” Graham said.

“In the last two seasons they have beaten Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. He had an important role in this. It speaks volumes if you can put together a talented team and manage them to perform at their best.

Woolf has led calls for equal pay across international rugby league, paying tribute to the “sacrifice” the players make every time they take the field for Tonga.

Graham added: “It doesn’t matter where they come from, he’s got the confidence of the players, he’s got it.

That comment was shared by former NRL player Jamie Soward. ‘Love Rugby League Podcast’ Wolff has “huge raps” for his work with Mate Ma’a earlier this year.

“It’s a huge responsibility that he’s done, not just for St. Helens, but the Polynesian connection,” Soward said.

“If the Tongan team really like him, and they do; it’s a big testament to him and his individual talent. He’s got great coverage here, not just from the players, but I’m a big fan of Christian Wolff.

Wolfe played a major role in Tonga’s success. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Building a roster is one thing, but creating an identity and shared vision for a team of players to buy into is another entirely.

Fortunately by the sounds of it, the Dolphins will have the perfect candidate in Wolfe to help their players do just that.

Recent reports suggest Wolff is nearing a deal with the Dolphins, although the man himself denied any deal was in place when speaking to UK media this week.

“No update, sorry,” Wolfe said.

“Nothing has changed in my situation. It’s like I was asked last week and last week.

“My condition has not changed, so reports that things have been confirmed are incorrect at this time.”

Whether it’s with the Dolphins or another NRL team, Graham says it will be bittersweet when his former coach gets the top job in Australia.

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“I believe Christian is interested in coaching in the NRL but as a St Helens fan I would love to see him go,” he said.

“I was a little torn. As a Saints fan I have to wish him all the best. My experience with Christian was first class.

“I also admire his honesty, openness and strength in training. He certainly knows how to lead a men’s team and is a top line coach in some very difficult situations, he got the best out of his team at St Helens.

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