The Dolphins have been crossing off various ‘firsts’ each week of their inaugural NRL season and this week, the club will feature in a unique piece of history when Kristian Woolf and Ben Woolf go head-to-head at WIN Stadium.
Kristian, who has returned from England to work under Wayne Bennett at the Dolphins, and Ben, who has joined St George Illawarra as an assistant to Anthony Griffin, will become the first coaching siblings to face off in the NRL.
According to rugby league statistician David Middleton, there have been very few instances of brothers coaching at the top level - let alone coaching against each other.
Frank Burge, who is one of the game's 13 Immortals, and brother Peter were co-coaches at St George in 1937, while the only other brothers to coach premiership teams in Australia were Bob Hagan (Canterbury 1971-1972) and Michael Hagan (Newcastle, Parramatta 2001-2008).
Brian Smith (Wakefield) and Tony Smith (Warrington) coached against each other in the English Super League, while Tony (Hull FC) pitted wits with Brian's son, Rohan Smith (Leeds), earlier this season.
Kristian Woolf, who will work with Bennett as his assistant for two seasons before moving into the head coaching role, has an extensive resume which includes leading Tonga to the Rugby League World Cup 2017 semi-finals and overseeing three Super League premierships with St Helens.
He was also at the helm of the Townsville Blackhawks when they were introduced into Queensland’s Cup competition in 2015, reaching the grand final in their inaugural season.
In that role, he went head-to-head against Ben's Tweed Seagulls on two occasions, winning both games, including one with Ben’s son Brent in his side.
Griffin, who brought Ben to the Dragons for his first fulltime NRL assistant coaching role, was also the person who handed Kristian his start in the NRL, bringing him on board as an assistant at the Broncos in 2012.
While Kristian will be hoping to make it three-from-three against Ben this Saturday, he hasn’t focused on the sibling rivalry.
“It probably doesn’t come into the thinking too much to be honest, but it’s good knowing he is going to be there and he’s done a great job and he’s done a great job in the (Hostplus) Cup, putting himself in a position to now be an NRL coach,” Woolf said.
“I still keep in contact with Anthony Griffin and I know he’s been really happy with the influence Ben’s had there and what he’s doing as a young coach, so I am really happy for him and really proud to see him doing that.”
Woolf ready to tackle defence at the Dragons
For Ben, a former school teacher at Keebra Park High, who has also worked as an under 20s coach at the Titans, the move up to an NRL squad has been a welcome challenge.
“It's been really good, I am really enjoying it,” Woolf said. “The players have been good, the staff have been good, so it's been a bit of a step up for me, but it's good to be doing it fulltime and I don’t have to school teach on the side.”
On facing off against his brother, Ben said he was hoping to turn around past results, but also did admit Kristian had been someone who had provided advice in the past.
“We have coached against each other before in Cup and he had my son in the team at the time, so that was a tough one,” Woolf said.
“They touched us up, so hopefully we can get square this time around.
“[This game] will probably be more exciting for the family I guess, and Mum getting to choose who she goes for.
“[Kristian and I] do talk, we talk footy all the time, so we run ideas off each other – probably not so much at the moment – but we always have previously, so he's always been good for me.”
Besides the Woolf brothers, the coaching connections between the two clubs run deep, with Dolphins head coach Bennett famously guiding St George Illawarra to the 2010 premiership.
Looking back at the 2010 Grand Final
Griffin also has ties to the Dolphins, winning the 2006 Queensland’s Cup premiership with a team that included Redcliffe royalty Troy Lindsay, Grant Flugge and Michael Roberts.
Griffin also assisted Kristian Woolf with the Tonga team that beat the Kangaroos in 2019, while Woolf’s fellow assistant coach at the Dolphins now is Nathan Fien, who played under Bennett in the Dragons' premiership-winning team.
Fien, who had been coaching in the local Illawarra competition, also grew up in Mt Isa with the Woolf brothers, playing rugby league with Ben.
Fien buzzing like a kid in a candy shop
In the playing ranks there are connections as well, with Dolphins debutant Jack Bostock being a former Dragons junior representative player and St George Illawarra forward Josh Kerr starting out as a centre in Redcliffe junior teams.
Match: Dragons v Dolphins
Round 5 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong