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Potter's departure fails to shock

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George Riley George Riley | 13:23 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

I scarcely raised an eyebrow when it emerged that coach Mick Potter will be leaving St Helens when his contract expires at the end of the season. But it is the lack of surprise within the game as a whole to the imminent end to a short-lived managerial career that is probably more telling.

The 46-year-old Australian had just been named coach of the year in 2008 for his exploits with Catalans Dragons when he took over at Knowsley Road and presided over the club's first trophyless season since 2003 in 2009. He has now decided to call it a day and head back down under, leaving Saints needing to find another new coach.

Paul Sculthorpe won four Grand Finals, three Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenges with St Helens before retiring at the end of the 2008 campaign. And the 32-year-old former loose forward told me: "I wasn't surprised to hear Mick was going home. I think he's had a tough job because the previous coaches have had so much success."

Very true. Potter's predecessors Ian Millward and Daniel Anderson brought great success to the club, the latter winning the 2006 Challenge Cup, League Leaders' Shield and Grand Final in his first full season in charge.

Mick PotterPotter does not like the limelight, according to Paul Sculthorpe. Photo: Getty Images

Potter is rated just as skilful a coach as Anderson by many of his peers to whom I have spoken. Indeed, Saints are looking very handy on both fronts this year. But you just feel the relationship between Potter and St Helens has never really worked. Why? Perhaps personality is an issue.

Anderson was engaging and forthcoming to fans and media during his time at Knowsley Road. I have found Potter anything but personable, a view also held by Scully.

"Not many people warmed to Potter and I think that's because his personality is so different to Daniel's," Sculthorpe added.

"Mick doesn't like the limelight and keeps himself out of the picture. The fans don't like that. They maybe think he is being disrespectful to them. He keeps a very low profile and I don't think that has done him many favours. In fact, it has probably worked against him."

Strong stuff. I'm sure Scully knows Potter far better than I do. I have also heard rumours of dressing room unrest over the past season and a half, but Sculthorpe has dismissed any such talk. "I'm not sure the boys don't see eye to eye with him in the dressing room, it's more that they don't have any kind of personal relationship with him," he commented.

When I suggested to the former Great Britain captain that players not having any kind of rapport with the man who is their boss is a big problem, he responded: "I absolutely agree. As a manager, you have to be more personable and have a relationship with players."

Despite casting severe doubts over Potter's man-management skills, Sculthorpe had no doubts at all about his coaching pedigree.

"I've talked to players who have played under him and they speak very highly of his coaching," he commented. "I spoke to Stacey Jones when Potter joined Saints as Stacey had worked with him at Catalans and he told me he was one of the best coaches he'd ever played under. Stacey has played with some of the very best so Potter obviously knows his stuff."

Sculthorpe has indicated there could be mitigating circumstances for Potter's lack of success at Knowsley Road.

"He's been unlucky because there was burden on him even before he took over with Anderson's Saints failing in two Grand Finals," Scully reflected. "He's also taken over at a time with a lot of players coming towards the end of their careers, like Keiron Cunningham, or leaving, like Sean Long. He has had to bring in young kids who, when they started, were not up to it. At the time, they were not Super League standard and were too inexperienced to be playing for Saints."

However, Sculthorpe told me the club will ultimately benefit from their current reliance on youth.

"We went through the same thing in 2003, when injuries meant having to play a lot of the academy players, like John Stankevitch and Mark Edmonson," recalled Sculthorpe. "They were then among our best players the following year. If Potter is improving these current players, then he has to take credit for that even if we don't win anything this year. I think the fans understand that but they don't like saying it. They want to win now."

So to the big question: who will replace Potter? A couple of internet forums are pushing the name of Hull KR coach Justin Morgan. "I don't think it really matters who replaces Mick so long as it is the right man for the job - Aussie, Kiwi, Brit whatever," said Sculthorpe. "I'd like to think the talk about Craig Bellamy has some substance. He's the top man and if he wants out at Melbourne, then that would be a fair old signing. It would be nice if Saints went for him. I can't think why he wouldn't want the challenge. I don't think there's an obvious candidate in Super League at the moment."

The feeling is that Bellamy could well want out after the shocking salary cap revelations that have crippled Australia's top side and stripped them of the 2007 and 2009 titles won under him.


  • Comment number 1.

    Given that Mick Potter is on a two year contract and has expressed previously his desire to get into the NRL, I'm not surprised as a Saints fan by his decision (or the decision by mutual agreement - who knows?). You are right about his persona, George. Saints fans on the whole do like their coaches to connect with them. Anderson, and Millward before him, used to have a column in the local paper. While some fans may not be bothered by that, especially if we win trophies, Potter's lack of connection has hindered his acceptance by many of the fans. But I think of deeper concern to many was the way in which Saints' style of play rapidly deteriorated under Potter, even when we had no injuries. We became very one-dimensional and very, very dull to watch. Win or lose, that isn't what Saints fans want to see in the red vee. Over the last couple of weeks the team seems to have burst out of its shell all of a sudden. While that could change, it has been wonderful to see us playing open rugby league like a team united in the manner to which we had become accustomed. Of course fans of all clubs want their team to win - and win everything! - but even if we have yet another silverware-free season in 2010, if we keep playing the kind of rugby league we are playing at present then many fans will still find a lot of joy out of the season.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think that Justin Morgan will get the nod at St Helens. Sad though it is to say as a Rovers fan I can't see him taking Rovers any further, there isn't the money at the club to take the team any further. He'll have the backing of Daniel Anderson I suspect if that counts for anything, and it has to be said St Helens do have an ambitious board who back their coach to the hilt with new signings and excellent youth development. They've a new purpose built stadium to look forward to which will attract top talent. Justin Morgan has an excellent track record and I think he has the ambition and talent to go to Saints and move his reputation to the next level and bring success to the Saints.

  • Comment number 3.

    Mick Potter is an excellent coach and I liken this whole episode to 'X Factor'. You get a talented singer come along, just like Mick as a talented coach went along to Saints, they can sing beautifully, whereas in this case Mick has all the attributes of a quality coach, but because the judges (The Saints fans) don't like the personality, they are thrown on the scrapheap.

    Mick Potter does not deserve that and considering has got Saints playing really well and occupy the third playoff spot, 4 points from Huddersfield in 4th - you have to give the man his due. Had he hae stayed, I have no doubt Saints, with their vast array of young talent coming through, will be up there for a few years. That isn't the case so now they look to the future and Justin Morgan is a name frequently linked to the job so who knows eh?

  • Comment number 4.

    Rovers Return - HKR AWAY DAYS I think you have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick here. Potter leaving has nothing at all to do with the Saints fans, the board of director or the players. It was Potter who approached Eamon Macmanus to express he did not wish to extend his contract at St Helens. Potter leaving is no real surprise to me as he has never looked happy in his present post. He failed to integrate with players and fans alike through his own volition thus to some extent alienating himself to them. Last season Saints played some of the worst rugby I have seen during the superleague era, this under the coaching of Potter. I wish MR Potter well for the future but whatever reasons he has for leaving the Saints there is no sympathy from me.

  • Comment number 5.

    I-ate-the-pies, I think the amount of abuse MP gets on 606 shows that a section of fans didn't warm to him. I still stand by what I say and think that MP is a better coach than people in SL give him credit for and Saints are doing so well at present too. I wish him al lthe best, of course!

  • Comment number 6.

    IF Saints were to win any of the 3 trophies available this year or maybe more than one,then Mick Potter may be seen as a successful coach for the two seasons he has been here.I think he made a poor start,but injuries and blooding to many young players at once did not help.We are now seeing a big improvement from the young players due to big match experience and maybe the signs are good for a better than average season.
    PS Can you put me in touch with the guy who wants Eddie Waring memorabelia. Thank you. Alan Birch


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