Potter's departure fails to shock
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.
Potter 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.