Brian Noble is Super League's most successful coach. He won three Grand Finals and three World Championships with Bradford Bulls before going on to turn around a relegation-threatened Wigan Warriors side. But the Englishman describes his most recent move, attempting to establish the Celtic Crusaders as a serious Super League side, as his toughest challenge in management.
On the eve of the new season, few pundits or fans are likely to give him much hope with a team that finished bottom last campaign, lost six main players through visa irregularities and had to relocate 200km north to Wrexham from Newport after a takeover. "I love being told I can't do something, that I'm not going to achieve anything with this side," he said. "It's the toughest challenge I've faced, no doubt. But these lads have shown the desire and I just know if they work that hard then they are going to be successful.
"I relish these backs-to-the-wall kind of situations. I grew up in a tough area in Bradford, became a policeman and crossed paths with bad folk and good folk. Doing that taught me how to speak to people and deal with difficult situations. But I wouldn't like to go back to that. That's what makes you think that when things get tough, I'm involved in professional sport. How fabulous is that?" The winter has not been as fabulous as Noble, 48, wanted. As he underwent an operation for a serious knee injury the situation at Crusaders left him bewildered.
It was not the "picture that was painted" when he took the job following the end of his three years at Wigan. "It's natural. You question yourself as to why you do things. I do and certainly did over this job," he said. "There was a pulse and a heartbeat there and something worth sticking with. After Wigan, I was quite prepared not to be a coach. "The priority for me was to get my leg right. I've now been polishing my boots and I've probably got three tackles left and one carry.
"I love the game, the people, the players, the fans and the challenge. This club has potential beyond many others and I always see there's a way forward in anything. "Our start has been difficult and disjointed, but I'm still smiling. I'm not an excuses man and never have been. "There are 11 or 12 players here on one-year contracts and that's the commitment they are giving. They are playing for their futures and they push me. We are certainly setting ourselves high standards.
"Building for the following season leads me to believe I'm wasting a year and we still have an opportunity to win a lot of games. We have got a reputation to fix after what happened last season and that can only be done by ourselves. We are the new Crusaders." Not finishing bottom would be generally accepted as success - but not for Noble, who is used to challenging for silverware. He knows he has a "skinny squad" and will look to strengthen further, including the possibility of rugby union players on short-term deals or loans. Noble's vision is to build a team for the future with young players coming through. Tonight's opponents in the season's opening match, Leeds, are the ones to follow.
They are favourites to claim a fourth successive Grand Final, but Noble recalls how they went eight seasons without a title after Super League started in 1996. "Everybody has to start somewhere on a journey and ours starts on Friday against a team that has been on the starting blocks like we are now," he said. "If we want to be successful we have to look to emulate them. This game will show us where we are now and what more we have to do. There's a reason why they are a champion team.
"It's going to be competitive and as we saw last season, any team who are not on their game can get beaten. I hope we can surprise a few people." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org