From humble rugby league beginnings, coaching mastermind Graham Lowe became one of the most influential and revolutionary figures in the code’s history in New Zealand. The national team’s watershed results under Lowe’s tutelage from 1983-86 heralded a turning point for the Kiwis, while his achievements and status as a club coach in Australia and England are virtually unmatched by a New Zealander.


Lowe’s modest career as an Otahuhu premier grade player was curtailed by injury, but he progressed through the club’s coaching ranks before leading it to consecutive Fox Memorial triumphs in 1977-78. Lured to Brisbane by Norths Devils, Lowe steered the reigning wooden spooners to the 1979 finals and a stunning BRL grand final upset of Souths Magpies in 1980.



The 36-year-old returned to New Zealand in late-1982 and succeeded Ces Mountford as national coach.


The Kiwis snapped a 12-year losing streak against Australia with a sensational 19-12 victory at Lang Park in 1983, while a historic and comprehensive 3-0 whitewash of visiting Great Britain – winning all three Tests by margins of at least 12 points – followed in 1984.


“When Graham came into the team we had a core of very experienced group of players. He didn’t have to do too much to teach us how to play, but he had the ability to lift you up, to believe in yourself,” long-serving Kiwi hooker Howie Tamati recalls.


“From a psychological perspective, he built on our experience and gave us the edge to make us the team we were in the mid-eighties. We were hungry for another approach – not that the approach before that under Ces Mountford was bad, it was very good – but Graham took us to another level.”


New Zealand’s Lowe era reached its zenith during the epic 1985 series against Australia. Following heart-breaking narrow defeats in Brisbane and Auckland, the Kiwis blew the green-and-golds off Carlaw Park 18-0 in the third Test. The passionate and charismatic Lowe’s role in instilling confidence in his Kiwis charges and raising the profile of, and interest in, rugby league in New Zealand to unprecedented levels cannot be understated.



Lowe’s Kiwi tourists went agonisingly close to a series win in Great Britain in late-1985, with the third-Test decider finishing in a gripping draw.


“Graham was different. For a lot of years after I started reporting, the coach was almost anonymous. Graham could understand the value of the media and sports promotion,” veteran rugby league journalist, author and historian John Coffey explains.


“Obviously as student of the game in Australia, and as a guy with a gift of the gab, he had the confidence of the Kiwi players and was able to lift them up to another level. He went very close to winning series against Australia and in Great Britain in ’85, which would have emulated the Grand Slam Kiwis of ’71.


“He famously walked the players up Queen Street and saw they had the support of the public, which inspired them to give Australia a hiding at Carlaw Park in the third Test (of the 1985 series).


“Graham was a larger-than-life character. He persuaded Brian Lochore, the All Blacks coach at the time, to come and have a beer with him even though the NZRU stopped their players from mixing with the Kiwis because of their old prejudices. Graham earned great loyalty from his players and was able to relate to the media, whether he was in New Zealand, or England and Australia.”


A halcyon period ended in lamentable circumstances with Lowe and the NZRL parting company in 1986 after a disappointing tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, but Lowe’s standing as one of the world’s preeminent coaches continued to blossom after joining Wigan later that year. Among a plethora of trophies during three seasons in England, Lowe guided Wigan to the Championship-Premiership double at his first attempt and led the club to the first two of its eight consecutive Challenge Cup final triumphs at Wembley.


The in-demand Lowe took over Sydney heavyweight Manly for three seasons, taking the Sea Eagles to the finals in 1990-91. He was a controversial appointment as Queensland State of Origin coach but became a beloved figure in the Sunshine State after the Maroons’ epic 1991 series success and a narrow defeat in 1992.



“When I was coming through the coaching ranks and saw what Graham was doing, it inspired me,”  reveals Frank Endacott, who also coached New Zealand and Wigan, as well as the Warriors.


“He was the guy that led it all – that’s when I thought, ‘I’d love to do that’. I came in about a decade after him. I went to his coaching clinics (in the 1980s) and he was showing us things with hit shields and skill drills that we’d never seen before, that he’d picked up overseas and introduced to New Zealand.


“That’s when I really started thinking about the game. He was the coach who inspired me to go on to better things.”


Lowe’s performances at the helm of Manly and Queensland earned the 1991 coach of the year nod at the Halberg Awards, where rugby league has routinely struggled for recognition.


Lowe stood down at Manly due to health concerns in early-1993 but went on to coach Western Samoa at the 1995 World Cup and North Queensland Cowboys’ 1996 campaign. He was part-owner of the Auckland Warriors from 1998-2000, returned to Manly as CEO from 2009-11 and became co-owner of the ailing Bradford Bulls in 2017.


Lowe’s tireless contribution in the community service, youth and education spheres were recognised with the Queen’s Service Medal (1986), appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2013) and a knighthood (2019), while he was made an NZRL Life Member in 2013.



Clubs Coached: Otahuhu Leopards, Norths Devils, Wigan, Manly Sea Eagles, North Queensland Cowboys


New Zealand Coach:


1983  2 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1983  1 Test v Papua New Guinea

1984  3 Tests v Great Britain

1985  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1985  3 Tests in Great Britain

1985  2 Tests in France

1986  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1986  2 Tests in Papua New Guinea


Total Tests Coached: 19 matches (won 10, lost 8, drew 1)

Total Matches Coached: 39 matches (won 26, lost 12, drew 1)




BRL Premiership (1980)

Challenge Cup (1987/88, 1988/89)

English Championship (1986/87)

English Premiership Trophy (1986/87)

Lancashire Cup (1986/87, 1987/88, 1988/89)

League Cup (1986/87, 1987/88, 1988/89)

World Club Challenge (1987)

Oceania coach (1984)

Rest of the World coach (1988)

Western Samoa coach (1995)

Queen’s Service Medal (1986)

Halberg Awards coach of the year (1991)

New Zealand Rugby League Life Member (2013)

Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2013)

Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2019)