Keiron Cunningham: St Helens part company with head coach

Keiron Cunningham
Keiron Cunningham was assistant to Mike Rush and Nathan Brown before becoming head coach

St Helens have parted company with head coach Keiron Cunningham with the club seventh in Super League.

He has spent 24 years at the club as a player and on the coaching staff, and has a statue outside their home ground.

Cunningham, 40, played 496 times for Saints during his career and had been in charge for more than two years.

"It is both upsetting and disappointing for us all that it has ended at this point in time," St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus said.

Saints will be led by assistants Sean Long and Jamahl Lolesi, as well as under-19s coach Derek Traynor, on an interim basis until a new head coach is appointed.

"The commitment that he has shown to the club throughout, and in every capacity, has been without equal," McManus said.

"Keiron nevertheless understands the position and, as a mark of the man that he is, wishes only well and good to the club, its players and everyone associated with it."

Cunningham was assistant to Nathan Brown when Saints last won the Super League title in October 2014 and succeeded the Australian later that month.

The former Great Britain hooker, who signed a contract extension in January 2016, was in charge for 76 games and his tenure included two Super League semi-final appearances and one Challenge Cup semi-final.

St Helens have won only three of their eight Super League matches this season and are seven points behind leaders Castleford.

Keiron Cunningham statue
A statue of Keiron Cunningham can be found outside St Helens' Totally Wicked Stadium

'No room for slip-ups'

McManus' programme notes before Friday's home game with Huddersfield left no doubt about the pressure on Cunningham.

Saints were 14-0 ahead at half-time but produced, according to Cunningham, a "really weak" second-half display to draw 14-14.

Before that match, McManus wrote: "Given the quality and depth of the squad that we have, we should realistically be aiming for the top of the league and therefore we need to start stringing games together.

"Because of the unexpected losses already against Leigh, Wakefield and Salford, the room for further slips-ups is now very limited and the block of four games against Huddersfield, Wigan, Castleford and Widnes will go a long way to giving us a good indication of how our overall season is likely to unfold.

"Silverware must be our objective in 2017."

Analysis

BBC rugby league correspondent Dave Woods

Keiron Cunningham the player will forever remain the ultimate idol at St Helens.

But Keiron Cunningham the coach never quite connected with the Saints fans.

The team's style of rugby under his stewardship was deemed dour by supporters who remember the often electrifying performances of the teams that he played in.

The growing disquiet amongst those fans began last year when Saints went out of the Challenge Cup early with a whimper and only a late surge took them into the top four after a mediocre season.

This year, defeats to Wakefield, Leigh and Salford and the most recent draw with Huddersfield have been rated calamitous by those connected with the club.

It will be interesting to see if Cunningham comes back into the game and, if so, where. And also where Saints find their replacement, with no obvious candidate standing out at the moment.

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