‘Not an easy decision’: Woolf to exit St Helens and join the NRL’s Dolphins

The St Helens coach, Kristian Woolf, will leave the reigning Super League champions at the end of this season to take up a contract with the new National Rugby League franchise the Dolphins.

Woolf has delivered the league title in each of his first two seasons at St Helens, and will aim to make that a hat-trick in this year’s playoffs, which begin next week.

He will return to Australia in 2023, however, after agreeing to become one of two assistant coaches at the Dolphins, who will be headed by the former England head coach Wayne Bennett. Woolf has been earmarked to take over from Bennett in 2025 but will serve as understudy for the first two years of the Dolphins’ existence as a franchise when they enter the NRL next year.

The 47-year-old coach has won every domestic trophy on offer during his time in charge of the Saints, guiding them to the Challenge Cup last season, a League Leaders’ Shield this year and back-to-back Super League titles.

“This has not been an easy decision for myself or my family, but it’s time for us to return home,” Woolf said.

“We made a decision a little while ago due to personal factors that have played their part in our decision. The timing has also combined with an opportunity that has arisen in Australia. I have been here for three years and I have loved every minute of it. I love the club and what it has provided for both me and my family.

“The fans have been great with me, the passion they show and the way they support the club is terrific. They have also made my family feel at home and have welcomed us into the community and on behalf of my family I want to thank them for that.”

The Saints, who are attempting to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Super League title this season, say their plans for Woolf’s replacement are “well advanced”, and Woolf himself has heavily endorsed the credentials of the current assistant coach and legendary Saints full-back, Paul Wellens.

Wellens has served as an assistant under Woolf and the former head coach Justin Holbrook, and has been tipped by many as a future St Helens head coach. The club are welcoming applications from both sides of the rugby league world, but Wellens is keen to take the job at some point in the future, and Woolf believes he is ready to take on the challenge as early as next season.