‘’I agonised for weeks before plucking up the courage to tell my players what I had decided," confessed the 47-year-old Aussie, who has earned iconic status in the world of Rugby League since landing on our shores before the start of the 2020 season and then going on to steer the club to more major honours.
Woolf, who hopes to bow out on a high with a third successive Grand Final triumph, has landed a role with NRL newcomers Redcliffe-based Dolphins, initially as assistant to former England boss Wayne Bennett before succeeding him as head coach.
“We decided as a family a couple of months ago that it was the right time to go home,” he said. “The hardest part was having to stand in front of the playing group and tell them that I wasn’t going to be a part of them any more.
“I’ve got enormous respect for the playing group and it was really tough. I’m not an emotional person but it was a difficult thing to do and I felt extremely emotional.
“It was something I put off for a few weeks to be honest. I had the opportunity to tell them a couple of times but no time felt like the right time.
“Eventually I knew I had to stop stringing them along and go on and do it. It was a tough thing to do but relieving at the same time. The support and understanding they gave me was another demonstration of them as people.”
St Helens captain James Roby, who will play on in 2023 under Woolf’s successor after opting to put off his retirement, says it was tough watching his boss explain his decision to the players.
“Nowadays, with social media, lads were picking up things so we had an inkling before he announced it to us and I wasn’t too shocked,” Roby said.
“Kristian is a very honest bloke, he told us it was a family decision and that’s the nature of the sport sometimes, things outside of rugby factor in.
“It was pretty tough to see him explain his decision, it was a tough conversation for him to have.”
Woolf, who started his coaching career in the Queensland Cup and was in charge for two NRL games at Newcastle Knights in 2019 before succeeding Justin Holbrook at St Helens, will link up with his new club after coaching Tonga at the World Cup.
It is thought Woolf had a choice of clubs but the prospect of returning to live in Queensland and working alongside Bennett was too good to refuse.
“It was a matter of looking at the opportunities that were in Australia and figure out which one of them was the best in terms of my career,” he said.
“I had conversations with different people but Redcliffe was the right one. It’s very well resourced, there’s a massive junior base and a massive area to build on.
“Working with Wayne was a big part of that as well. I’ve learned a helluva lot as a coach over here. It’s made me a better coach and going over and doing a couple of years with Wayne and then being able to succeed him is obviously a terrific opportunity.”
Victory over Salford in Saturday’s second semi-final would enable Woolf to lead Saints out at Old Trafford for his final match and victory there would make it a fairytale finish.
“It would be special but it’s not about any individual,” he said.