After carving out a highly successful coaching career in club, provincial and junior representative level, Frank Endacott set new standards for longevity and success as a New Zealand Test coach – while simultaneously handling demanding professional Warriors gigs in both hemispheres, in Auckland and Wigan.
A more than handy player, Endacott won selection for the Schoolboy Kiwis in 1963 and made his senior debut for Addington in 1967. The feisty centre/five-eighth-cum-second-rower/prop played senior football until 1980 after transferring to Hornby but was frequently plagued by hamstring problems, which twice put paid to Canterbury call-ups.
Endacott had impromptu stints as player-coach at Addington in 1972 and ’74, but his first fulltime appointment was in 1982. At his first attempt, the 34-year-old steered the Magpies to their maiden Grand Final victory and first championship since 1944.
He took over at Hornby in 1985 and led the club to three straight Grand Finals against Halswell – a convincing victory in 1986 bookended by two last-gasp, one-point losses via Phil Bancroft field goals.
Endacott assumed the Canterbury reins in 1989 after lifted the provincial side from a low base to a period of unprecedented and sustained success, while also blooding a stack of future Kiwis. Canterbury defeated Great Britain and snapped a 15-year drought against Auckland in 1990, and produced another win over Auckland in 1991 and a draw against the traditional heavyweights in 1992.
Canterbury’s Endacott era concluded with an iconic 36-12 thrashing of a star-studded Auckland line-up in the 1993 First Division Grand Final at a heaving Addington Show Grounds.
Meanwhile, Endacott guided the Junior Kiwis to a historic win over the Junior Kangaroos in 1992 and on a highly successful tour of Britain the following season. The senior New Zealand team was simultaneously enduring a disastrous tour of Britain and France under Howie Tamati, who was subsequently replaced by Endacott.
Endacott took a New Zealand Residents side to Australia in 1994 before his initial Kiwis head coaching assignment, a two-Test tour of Papua New Guinea where his charges overwhelmed the Kumuls 28-12 and 30-16.
The Kiwis’ mid-season results in 1995 were underwhelming: a win and a draw against a weak French outfit on home soil and a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of an Australian side missing Super League-aligned players. But after avoiding an almighty upset with a 25-24 comeback win in their Centenary World Cup opener, Endacott moulded a dangerous and resilient combination that went within an ace of rolling Australia in the semi-finals, ultimately going down 30-20 in extra-time.
The New Zealand Test team developed impressively in 1996, monstering Papua New Guinea in a two-Test rubber (62-8 and 64-0) and sweeping Great Britain three-nil – including an emphatic 32-12 win in the third encounter, the only Test the Kiwis’ played in Christchurch during Endacott’s tenure.
Endacott had also landed the job as Auckland Warriors’ foundation reserve grade coach, with decorated former Parramatta and Wigan mentor John Monie coaching the first grade team. The reserve grade side reached the finals in their inaugural 1995 campaign and surged into the Grand Final in 1996, unlucky in going down 14-12 to Cronulla.
The Warriors’ flagging first-grade fortunes saw Endacott replace the axed Monie at the halfway point of the 1997 Super League season. The campaign turned around under Endacott’s direction, winning four of their last five premiership games and putting on a string of huge scores on British teams to reach the semi-finals of the World Club Challenge, where the Warriors produced one of the finest performances of their early years in a 22-16 defeat to the incomparable Brisbane Broncos.
After losing the first Anzac Test to Super League Australia in Sydney 34-22, the Kiwis carved out a stunning 30-12 victory at North Harbour Stadium in the return clash in late-1997. That notable victory was trumped just seven months later, however, when the Kiwis defied an injury- and suspension-hampered build-up to beat the first full-strength Kangaroos line-up in four years in 1998. The 22-16 come-from-behind win at North Harbour stands tall as one of New Zealand’s greatest performances.
Against the backdrop of off-field uncertainty, the Warriors won only nine of 24 games in the 1998 NRL season and finished 15th, while Endacott was jettisoned by the new Graham Lowe-led ownership consortium at the end of the year. The Kiwis lost two post-season Tests to Wayne Bennett’s Broncos-dominated Kangaroos, before going within a whisker of an unprecedented series cleansweep in England – winning the first two Tests against Great Britain before drawing the third.
New Zealand was brave in a 20-14 Anzac Test loss to Australia in 1999 and went agonisingly close to securing a place in history at the end of the year. The Kiwis upset the Kangaroos 24-22 in the Tri-Nations opener before sweeping aside Great Britain 26-4, but were edged out 22-20 by the green-and-golds in a final thriller.
The start of the last season of Endacott’s record-breaking Kiwis tenure – shattering records for Tests and wins in charge of the national side – started poorly, trounced 52-0 in the Anzac Test. But the coach and his team regrouped, going on a rampage to the World Cup final with massive wins over Lebanon (64-0), Cook Islands (84-10), Wales (58-18), France (54-6) and England (49-6).
The 40-12 scoreline in Australia’s favour in the Old Trafford decider did not reflect the competitiveness of the final: New Zealand trailed just 18-12 with 15 minutes to go. The decision to step down from the post was entirely Endacott’s, revealing later that NZRL chairman Gerald Ryan had offered a two-year extension prior to the World Cup.
Endacott had also taken over at Wigan in 2000, claiming Super League Coach of the Year honours and leading the Warriors to the Grand Final, where they lost to St Helens. Despite extending his contract until the end of 2002, a run of patchy results during the first half of 2001 saw Endacott fall victim to the fickle nature of coaching in England (and Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay’s unrealistic expectations of perpetual success) punted mid-season in favour of Stuart Raper.
He later had a season in charge of Widnes Vikings in 2005 before returning to Canterbury and focusing on his successful player management business alongside former Kiwi prop Peter Brown.
Fondly known as ‘Happy Frank’, the affable and beloved Endacott has put countless hours back into the game as grassroots level, coaching several junior teams as well as returning to the senior coaching ranks with Northern Bulldogs in 2020-21, and serving on committees.
Made a Life Member of Canterbury Rugby League and New Zealand Rugby League, Endacott was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to rugby league in 2007 and has also been bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement award (2017) and Sporting Legends of Canterbury status (2018) at the Canterbury Sports Awards.
NEW ZEALAND (COACH – 1994-2000)
35 Tests (22 wins, 11 losses, 2 draws)
-1994 Kiwis tour of Papua New Guinea
-1995 Kiwis World Cup
-1998 Kiwis tour of Great Britain
-1999 Kiwis Tri-Nations
-2000 Kiwis World Cup