Hull Kingston Rovers head coach Willie Peters is preparing for his first season in the top job after serving a lengthy apprenticeship, which began with selling sponsorship for South Sydney Rabbitohs; watch the 2023 Betfred Super League season live on Sky Sports
Last Updated: 10/02/23 9:44am
Willie Peters always had his sights on moving into coaching after his playing days were over, but it was two years in the equally unforgiving world of selling sponsorship which set him on the path to his first head coach role with Hull Kingston Rovers.
The Australian former scrum-half, whose career included spells on these shores with Gateshead Thunder, Wigan Warriors and Widnes Vikings, was forced to hang up his boots at the age of 26 due to injury.
Peters admits he found it difficult at the time, and rather than transition straight into coaching he was taken under the wing of then-South Sydney Rabbitohs CEO Shane Richardson as part of the off-field staff and it proved an eye-opening experience which continues to serve him well.
“I had a couple of years away just to find myself again because I hadn’t had anything behind me,” Peters told Sky Sports. “I went straight from school to playing first grade, so I had two years away and then took my time slowly.
“I went into sponsorship with the Rabbitohs. Shane Richardson, who got me to Gateshead, was the CEO and he offered me the role, which was awesome for me because I got to understand the other side of the business of rugby league.
“When you play, you think that’s it and that side is the most important, but you put all these pieces together and that’s what makes the club work and tick.
“I was responsible for bringing money into the club and there is a lot of purpose involved in that because if you don’t bring money in then potentially players don’t get paid and things like that. It was rewarding and no doubt it helped me get to where I wanted to get to in coaching.”
When he did take his first steps into coaching, Peters worked his way through the ranks from the U16s, U18s and U20s, to assistant with Manly Sea Eagles in 2017 and then back at the Rabbitohs two years later, followed by Newcastle Knights in 2020.
He always held the ambition of returning to the UK to coach though, setting himself the aim of earning a head coach position in the competition as part of a 10-year plan after enjoying his time in Super League in the early part of his playing career.
Peters was barely 20 when he joined Gateshead for their one and only season in the competition in 1999, learning from more experienced compatriots like skipper and former Queensland State of Origin hooker Kerrod Walters and ex-NRL prop Daniel Lee.
“It was a really great experience,” Peters, who moved to Wigan and featured in their 2000 Grand Final defeat to St Helens after Thunder merged with Hull Sharks, said.
I want to be part of a club which is ambitious because we’re in the Super League. This is full-time, you want to win trophies, and that’s what you’re here to do.
New Hull KR head coach Willie Peters
“They had a lot of Australian players at the time, so I got a lot of learnings from them and looked up to a lot of the guys I played with.
“They were at the back end of their career, and I was starting out my journey, but I really enjoyed that year and then I was fortunate enough to go to Wigan the year after.
“That was one of the best years of my life; it’s a special club and we got pipped at the post against St Helens, but it was a special time.”
Peters’ coaching career has seen him learn from some of the best in Australia too, from tapping into Wayne Bennett’s deep understanding of rugby league, to admiring Anthony Seibold’s process-driven approach and Adam O’Brien’s dedication to rigorous professional standards.
Now the man in the top job, Peters arrived in East Hull to take up his new job with Rovers last September, allowing his family plenty of time to get settled before getting down to work on the training field with the squad ahead of the 2023 Betfred Super League campaign.
Hull KR and Peters begin the year at home to his former club Wigan on Saturday, February 18 (kick-off 1pm), but more than anything the 43-year-old is relishing working for an ambitious club in a rugby league hotbed where a fierce cross-city rivalry exists with an equally ambitious neighbour in Hull FC – just like back home in Sydney.
“I’m from the Rabbitohs and they love their rugby league as well and like with the [Sydney] Roosters and the Rabbitohs it’s the same thing here,” Peters said. “I love it and love that we are in a city which loves its rugby league.
“I want to be part of a club which is ambitious because we’re in the Super League. This is full-time, you want to win trophies, and that’s what you’re here to do.
“I’m not going to make any massive statements saying that’s what we’re going to do this year, but are we striving to? Absolutely – and are we striving to play in the big games? Yes, we are.”
The new Super League season starts on Thursday, February 16 as Warrington Wolves host Leeds Rhinos. Watch 66 live matches, including Magic Weekend, the play-offs and the Grand Final, on Sky Sports in 2023 and stream on NOW TV.