Woolf downplays Dolphins’ crystal ball moment

Jasper Bruce |

Kristian Woolf (pic) is ready to call the shots against the Eels if Wayne Bennett is absent.
Kristian Woolf (pic) is ready to call the shots against the Eels if Wayne Bennett is absent.

Dolphins assistant Kristian Woolf has rejected suggestion the clash with Parramatta will provide a glimpse into his coaching style if Wayne Bennett fails to make a miraculous recovery from the flu.

Bennett did not travel with the Dolphins to Darwin on Wednesday evening and is at long odds to make the four-hour flight in the hours before his side plays on Friday.

Woolf, already named Bennett’s successor for 2025, is on stand-by to replace the master coach at TIO Stadium and presided over captain’s run there on Thursday night.

“(Bennett) has obviously been pretty ill, otherwise he’d be here now,” Woolf said.

Bennett has been in frequent contact with his staff this week amid his recovery.

His heir apparent said nothing about preparations changing if he took the reins for an earlier-than-expected debut as Dolphins head coach.

“At the end of the day, it’s still (Bennett’s) team,” Woolf said.

“We’re not changing things because he’s not here at the moment, we’re doing things exactly the same as what we usually do.”

Once the hottest young coach on the market, Woolf has been earmarked as Bennett’s successor since September 2022, before the Dolphins had played a premiership game.

Aside from two games as interim coach at Newcastle in 2019, the 48-year-old is untested in the hot seat at an NRL club, though led English club St Helens to grand final glory three times in as many Super League seasons.

He was also coach of Tonga for their memorable 2019 defeat of Australia and led the Pacific nation to the 2017 World Cup semi-finals – their best result at the tournament.

Kristian Woolf.
Kristian Woolf giving advice during a Tonga training session in Queensland last year. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

But with intrigue mounting as to his NRL capabilities, Woolf shrugged off claims Friday night’s game could give punters a taster of what he can offer from 2025.

“Not at all,” Woolf said.

“Before I chose to come here, I was very much aware of the fact that for two years, my job’s to support Wayne and that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll do that to the best of my ability.

“Then obviously once this season’s over, I’ll have a look at what I’m going to do there, whether it be the same or different. But at the moment, I’ve got an important role and that’s to support him and what he wants as head coach.

“While we’ve played a little bit of a bigger role (this week) in terms of some of the delivery, at the end of the day, we’re following Wayne’s messages.

“We’re following what we know he wants us to do as a team. That doesn’t change.”

Equally, Woolf does not expect Bennett to be coaching from his bedside if he is unable to make it to Darwin.

“He’s great to work with Wayne because he puts a lot of trust in you as an assistant coach,” Woolf said.

“If he doesn’t quite make it, he’ll show a level of trust and leave it in our hands.”