Whilst being one of the most successful coaches in English Super League history, current Illawarra Cutters Head Coach Ian Millward is glad he was given the opportunity to give back to rugby league in Wollongong.
After receiving a call from St George Illawarra Dragons CEO Peter Doust late last year, the 53-year-old decided to wrap up life in England, and move back to where it all began.
"Obviously I grew up in Wollongong and I have nothing but fond memories here," said Millward.
"It was really good being able to live back in the area and be formally involved in rugby league."
The two-time English Super League Premiership and Challenge Cup winning coach has managed to turn a side that just missed out on the top eight last season, into real Premiership contenders in 2014, with the Cutters sitting just three points out of first place.
“I never had any expectations at all during the year," said Millward.
"It was about getting people to play better rugby league and help the players fulfill some of their dreams.
I wanted to help everyone get the best of themselves, whether that’s an NRL squad spot or a Coal League player having the ability to play NSW Cup.
“It has been more about them enjoying themselves as well. Obviously winning is a habit. We have had a really good attitude so that has really impressed me”.
His coaching style has resonated well with the squad, with a number of senior players commenting on how much their game has developed just in the six months since Millward arrived at the club.
Former Penrith Panther and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs first-grader Junior Tia-Kilifi had nothing but praise for his head coach, saying he feels as though he has grown as a footballer since making the move from the Wyong Roos over the offseason.
“Just being able to learn off someone like Ian, who has had so much experience in the UK, it’s helped my transition from the outside backs into the back row a lot easier and smoother” said Tia-Kilifi.
“I’d say I’ve learnt the most I have in my career here at the Cutters."
Having spent much of the last 15 years in the English Super League, Millward admits that while coaching a squad made up of part-time rugby league players can be tough, he has really enjoyed the challenge.
“It’s a lot more challenging and you have to be a lot more adaptable," said Millward.
"You also have to be appreciative of what they are trying to achieve outside of rugby league too.
"Having said that, it’s been very refreshing. It has given me a sense of why we all do it, because we enjoy the sport we are involved in.
“To be honest, it’s been a humbling experience. I have nothing but admiration for these players”.
Unfortunately, Millward had his promising playing career cut short while with the Illawarra Steelers in 1983, breaking his neck in a game against the North Sydney Bears.
From there, he moved into coaching, assisting John Dorahy at the Western Suburbs club in Wollongong.
Millward’s role within the club goes beyond that of just overseeing the Cutters as he also assists Dragons Head Coach Steve Price during the week, as well as using his extensive knowledge of the English Super League to scout players both over in the UK and within the NSW Cup competition.
Ian isn’t the only member of his family with a history within the game of rugby league, with his father Bob Millward playing a pivotal role in the success of the sport in the Illawarra over a number of decades.
As an Order of Australia medalist, and current Director of Illawarra Rugby League, Bob Millward has played an influential role in his son’s playing and coaching career.
“He makes you respect that we are only custodians of the game,” said Ian Millward.
“We have to make sure we don’t become selfish about the game, but also think about the game and try and make it better."
By Nathan Beuman