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Did St Helens rush into Simmons sacking?

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George Riley George Riley | 17:21 UK time, Wednesday, 21 March 2012

If St Helens were Chelsea and Royce Simmons was Andre Villas-Boas, I would not have raised an eyebrow at his sacking.

But this is Super League not Premier League, a competition and sport where loyalty and faith normally extend beyond the opening weeks of a season.

Trigger-happy chairmen don’t tend to exist. Quite simply, a coaching dismissal during a season is exceptionally rare.

Saints’ sacking of Simmons – the club say they “parted company” – shocked many. Before Easter, and seven games after a sixth successive Grand Final, Simmons is sacked.


St Helens Head Coach Royce Simmons was sacked after a run of poor results. Photo: Getty

So was St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus right? And what happens now?

Several Saints players had told me during their five-match winless run that they felt clueless on the pitch.

No direction with ball in hand, no idea on the last tackle, far too porous in defence. If they were discussing this with me then you would imagine the situation was discussed at length between the players, and McManus must have been aware of the problems.

Picture McManus looking out of his sparkling new Langtree Park office at the impressive new stadium he worked so hard to create.

Imagine the chairman contemplating a five-match losing run, a string of clueless performances, hearing club legends like Sean Long label the side “one-dimensional”, listening to growing unrest among their passionate fan base and glancing at upcoming games against champions Leeds, League Leaders, Shield holders Warrington and Challenge Cup winners Wigan.
Perhaps now you understand the decision.

Yet McManus would also have been mindful of where Leeds had come from in beating Saints in October’s Grand Final.

There was clamour from fans for Gary Hetherington to sack Brian McDermott this time last year.

The Rhinos won four of their first 10 and McDermott was even being booed after Leeds’ final league match of the season.

But Hetherington stood firm, backed his own judgement and that of the coach he hired. Months later, he has a Grand Final and a World Club Challenge trophy on his desk.

Perhaps this is different. McDermott had a good deal in place at Leeds.

Saints, on the other hand, are still adjusting to the loss of leaders James Graham and Leon Pryce, and have been robbed of one of the world’s best hookers this season – James Roby will return from injury against Leeds.

So what next? The immediate future is youth boss Mike Rush and club legend Keiron Cunningham.

You will not find anyone at St Helens with anything other than huge praise for Rush, widely applauded for bringing through wave after wave of young talent.

Working with their old boss could be just what the kids need to snap out of this slump and harden them to Super League rugby.

It certainly looks a good ship-steadying short-term appointment to give Rush the chance to work with those he brought through.

Rush admits that he was shocked both to hear the news on Simmons and to be asked by McManus to take charge.

The Saints chairman has now left the country on a pre-arranged trip and will pick up the pieces on his return.

“The players understand this,” says Rush. “It's sport, it's business. If they chose to mope about, you ain't gonna get on.”

Like Cunningham, Rush has spent the whole of his working career at the club and knows it inside out. He lives, breathes, sweats and bleeds St Helens and even admits to big-match nerves before Under-15 games. He also worked as assistant to former boss Daniel Anderson in 2008.

And he says that Anderson has already been in touch to offer any help and advice he can.

If Rush and Cunningham work well in the short term, it is not out of the question that they are asked to do the job for the rest of the season, before a permanent appointment is made, possibly current Huddersfield boss Nathan Brown or even last year’s Coach of the Year Trent Robinson of the Catalan Dragons.

If there is no improvement, don’t rule out an interim return to his old job for Anderson himself, already confirmed this season as Exiles coach, but with the flexibility to step in if required.

Where Simmons deserves sympathy is that he is a good bloke and the players didn’t perform for him. He was also unlucky.

Only Jamie Foster’s uncharacteristically errant boot denied them victory over Hull KR, the Catalans’ extraordinary comeback win was sealed from the touchline and Huddersfield’s win was helped by a Danny Brough kick that bounced off both uprights and the bar.

Those though are excuses. It is now down to the players to react positively to adversity, not wallow in it. The last time Saints changed coach mid-season was 2005.

Then followed a 44-6 hammering by Hull under temporary boss Dave Rotherham, before Anderson’s arrival.
As Rush points out, somewhere the new St Helens coach will be watching every play from now so every single player has everything to prove.


  • Comment number 1.

    First of all, George, we didn't look clueless up to the second half of the Catalans match. We scored lots of tries at Hull KR - in fact were in a 14 point lead - and scored some good tries against Catalans too. So please do not infer something was badly wrong from the outset. It wasn't. However, we have lost three leaders on the pitch over the past season: Cunningham first, Pryce and then James Graham. I'd like to see you or indeed any of the players who apparently spoke to you (and it's a bit embarrassing for them if they are admitting to being clueless on the pitch!) name a team that could cope with losing three leaders in the space of 12 months AND not having their pace-setter and ball distributor on the pitch for two games, as well as integrating three new players into the culture and systems at the club. Had Saints been hammered in those matches they lost then clearly something would have been very wrong. However, all our losses hung on mistakes made by our young players and indeed the drop of a ball by one of our oldest players (Puletua at Bradford).

    It is easy to blame the coach when a team loses - and you certainly seem to be inferring he is responsible. However, some players at Saints need to look at themselves a little more closely. Why has Lance Hohaia got through almost 60 tackles during the last two matches? Jon Wilkin has been working to rule for a few games now. These are supposed to be professional sportsmen working as a team. Jon Wilkin is one of our longest serving players and has played at halfback as well as loose forward. He should have taken on the leadership role but he didn't. The coach cannot lead a team on the field. That is what Saints have been lacking and it is still what they are lacking. Changing coaches doesn't solve that problem.

    And also, if rumour is to be believed, not everybody thinks the world of Mike Rush!

  • Comment number 2.

    Whilst having some level of sympathy for Simmons, Sean Long had it exactly right in that Saints have all too often looked one-dimensional - not just this season, either.
    Yes, the loss of Graham - the best prop in rugby and an on-field leader - would hurt any team, but Saints have neither got close to replacing him, nor adapted to his moving on. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of a coach to formulate gameplans that are effective and Simmons has failed to do this. It's not as if Saints have been playing well but getting pipped; they've served up some painfully turgid rugby this year.
    And that's the heart of the issue - it's not that Saints have won just 2 out of 7 this year, but the manner in which they've played.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm going to be truefully honest, I have been a Saints fan all my life (34 Years), we have had a lot of highs and lows. When I first started watching Saints we were a average side playing for honours every now and then Wigan dominated the game for over ten years. The Super League was a blessing in disguise, I heard all the fans moaning about changing to summer rugby but we have turned out to be the most successful club in the Super League era.
    So what I am getting at, a large section of saints fans have turned in to pie eating mentalility, as soon as things start looking bad they attack the team and coach, yes we haven't won any silverware for a couple of seasons but look at our squad. We are so lucky to have the youth players we have, this is all down to Mike Rush, he scouted the players and helped them develop.
    We need the players to start defending, Since DA left the club the defense has been shocking, we have conceded more points over the last 3 years than any other top 8 side, scoring points only helps to win cames, good defence wins games!!!

    If Saints players sort out their defense we will beat anyone!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Does not matter who takes over at Saints , the squad is shocking . That bad you could say Gardner is the best winger at the club . The Aussies signed are just here for a pension top up . The youth that come through are ok but nothing special and too much pressure at a young age been put on there shoulders . Foster is a Championship player at best ( No defence to his game and kicking is all he can do ) Maybe instead of driving around in his white bmw with the hood down and poxy haircuts ..............he should work on his game . Wellens is coming to the end of his career ( been great but legs have gone ) . No coach would get anything out of this bunch .

  • Comment number 5.

    Probably couldnt handle losing to Leeds in the Grand Final, like every other saints coach

  • Comment number 6.

    ^^^^^bit pointless , but then again you are a leeds fan ^^^

  • Comment number 7.

    We are playing some of our worst rugby in 10 years at the moment and i'm not sure it was all Simmons fault, the players fault or a combination of the two, but something had to change. The capitulation in the 2nd half against Catalans was embarrasing and I could barely recognise us losing to an average Bradford side at the weekend. Something had to change and its easier to sack the coach, than it is to sack the players.
    The difference between us and Leeds from last year is that, it was McDermotts first season in charge and he needed time to put his stamp on the team. Royce may have lost some players but he also had time to replace them, also he did sign Josh Perry, for reasons that a lot of saints fans are struggling to comprehend.
    As for the future, I dont see Anderson taking it full time again, but he may wish to see out the remainder of the season and give Mcmanus time to find a coach for next season and beyond.

  • Comment number 8.

    In many ways when Simmonds blooded a lot of youngsters last season I thought they would get bullied and look outclassed but the opposite happened and the players flourished and looked like experienced players.
    The strange thing is those same players who we would now consider "experienced" now suddenly seem to look out of their depth and making the mistakes of rookies. Undoubtedly part of this is because they have lost their big forwards and so are getting rolled back and having to play on the back foot, and confidence is low. Injuries to key players are also making them look worse than they are as well I think.
    Lance Hohai was I think one of the best oversea signings as anyone who has watched the NZ Warriors knows how good he is so I'm sure he will come good.

  • Comment number 9.

    Players are getting more like footballers everyday. Now when the going gets tough the players under perform until the coach gets sacked as opposed to taking responsilbility, rolling up the sleeves & getting on with the job. I bet they beat Leeds now on sunday!

  • Comment number 10.

    can't see anything other than a leeds win on sunday!

  • Comment number 11.

    As a Leeds fan I'd been waiting to see how Saints dealt with the poor run of form, it's interesting to compare it to where we were at last year.

    Much as it pains me, Saints miss Graham on the pitch (leadership and his ability to break the line/draw a man before passing the ball out) and I agree with Long! In GR's previous post, Long pointed out the attacking play from Saints and then I watched Saints do the very same thing against Bradford.

    It's a shame that they've not stuck with Simmons but I can see why.

    I wouldn't agree with the earlier comment about Foster, he's a good winger and goal kicker but I do think that he needs to sort out his ego/temperament.

  • Comment number 12.

    SaintDi - did you read the same article that I read? I got the distinct impression that George was pretty sympathetic to the Saints cause, and in particular felt sorry for Simmons, who he felt was very unlucky. And can you please learn the difference between imply and infer ;-)

  • Comment number 13.

    From the games I have seen Saints play this year on TV, I think their main problem is the pack - any team would miss James Graham (who is playing really well in the NRL) but as the old saying goes if you have no pack the backs cannot play - The present forwards look tame, dis-interested and no commitment - Wilkin has been poor, the props like championship standard and when Roby has not played the team looks very poor - Last season the pack performed very well which allowed the young backs to play and mature, now they are struggling and lots of people are now blaming them for not being good enough.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well really shocked at Simmons rapid departure despite the recent performances. I'm really uncertain whether Rush will be able to step up and improve performances. As for Cunningham as his deputy while he had an unbelievable playing career (boy could we do with his leadership on the pitch NOW) does he actuallly have any coaching experience? Looks more like a sop putting a club hero in to keep the fans happy. I can only hope I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 15.

    are you saying it was the goal post that caused saints defeat to the giants!! if there had been a video ref 2 of saints would have been disallowed one for losing the ball and one for being over the dead ball line,so the score made saints look better than they really were.saints have lost the heart of the team in cunningham pryce long and graham. wellans is just a shadow of what he was.its going to be a long season i hope the fans sick with them.

  • Comment number 16.

    It was only a matter of time before the club had to get rid of Simmons. Last year was a very similar start until we had a very lucky result against Leeds at Headingly. Since that game all the luck seemed to go towards Saints and the last gasp points that we needed to win games where being converted and made the team look a lot better than we were at the time (the game against Castleford springs to mind)

    This season we have not had the luck and unfortunatly the team is being found out we drew against a Hull KR team that has a massive pack compared to some lightweight props that we have and we were lucky to draw that game. The Catalan game we should never have lost the game after being so far in front and can only blame the players for that and cannot blame the coach. The Huddersfield game the better team won.

    Simmonds needed to bring in a leader to replace Graham and someone who put as much effort in as he did. Laffranchi is a good signing but he still in my opionion has huge boots to fill. But we have not replaced any big names in the last 6 years and it was going to happen at some point

    We need players who take pride in playing for the saints shirt, Perry has played a handful of games in a year and the fans have lost confidence in him

    We need an experianced coach in with someone who can work on the defense because you cannot win games without a stable defense, the signs where there against Bradford. I would like to see either Noble or Anderson and as a saints fan who goes all games would not like to see Brown in charge.

    The fans need to get behind the team and stop expecting success, its not going to happen overnight and we have had a good run the last 6 years (even if we lost 5 finals in a row). Don't worry about a thing, because every little thing is gunna be alright as a musician once said

  • Comment number 17.

    13, I don't think the pack is to blame. If you look at the stats they are making almost the same level of metres as the top 2 Wigan and Huddersfield.

    Where they are falling down is the lack of offloads and attacking play. St Helens always used to throw the ball around yet now its just 5 drives and a kick. I also don't rate Gaskill at all and the backs are lightweight other than Meli and Soliola.

    The lack of attacking intent is exacerbated by the fact that St Helens just cannot defend. If a team gets close to St Helen's try line then the chances are they will score. Really its been like this for years but their attacking play largely made up for it. Now there's no Cunningham, Graham, Pryce, Long or a Gidley or Lyon and they can't just overwhelm teams anymore.

    I think the coach had to go though, mainly for the playing style he adopted. A comparison would be Barcelona suddenly playing like the old Bolton or Wimbledon, it wouldn't be acceptable for them and its not for St Helens.

  • Comment number 18.

    Please please please come back for the rest of the season Daniel Anderson!!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    Simple answer is yes they have rushed it.

    They dont look like the usual saints but they have lost James Graham and Leon Pryce and so far the replacements havent stepped up to the mark.
    They have lost to Catalans, Huddersfield and Hull FC all clubs pushing to force themselves into the top 4 and lost to Bradford (a team showing a bit of promise) without Roby, Lomax, LMS, Soliola, (2 of the main ball players and directors of play and 3 of their main meter makers).

    8 games ago they were playing in the Grand Final and were unlucky with injuries to key players. They have an excellent young squad of players that could form the back bone of the team to go on and achieve big things like Leeds.

    it is easy to blame the coach but if there is a lack of direction on the field maybe some blame has to go on the players. Wellens, Wilkin, Hohoia, Puleatu should be guiding the team around the field and protecting the young players. Once they get some bodies back they will once again push hard come play offs time sadly without Simmons.

  • Comment number 20.

    @johnneboy1886: "Royce may have lost some players but he also had time to replace them, also he did sign Josh Perry, for reasons that a lot of saints fans are struggling to comprehend."

    Royce didn't recruit Josh Perry. Josh Perry was recruited during Mick Potter's tenure.

    @waltdisley: "And can you please learn the difference between imply and infer ;-)"

    Ha ha! What are you implying? I'm inferring that you think I don't know the difference. Does that make you happier? :-)

    I reckon the expectations of some Saints fans are way, way too high for the team that we have. They talk as if they are the players who won it all in 2006. Sure, we have a couple of impressive antipodeans plus the excellent James Roby but other than that we are a young side with very inexperienced halves. Hohaia was brought in to counterbalance the inexperience midfield but Royce was still working on which combination would be best: Hohaia and Lomax or Hohaia and Gaskell or another permutation.

    Saints lack an on-field leader. He is presently playing for the Doggies down under. Wello tried against Bradford - a bit late, Wello, as we were seven games in by then! - but you can't lead from the back and we had lost Hohaia to hooker. Nobody else from our more experienced group of players was able or willing to take on the responsibility of on-field leader. Losing Robes to injury was the end of Royce's chances really as the Chairman also seems to think that this Saints team is the one which won it all in 2006.

  • Comment number 21.

    Such a shame to see saints struggling !!!!!! I'll make the most of it, any team losing JG would struggle. Great article, and no I don't think the decision was rushed they got the wrong man in the first place...bring back Ellery and lets have some fun !!

  • Comment number 22.

    Lets get the facts right
    *Long gone and not really replaced in quality
    *Cunningham gone and seni replaced by Roby
    *Price gone and not really replaced with the same quality
    *Graham gone and not replaced
    *Wellens, Wilkin, etc not stepping up to the mark and leading
    Then how many quality coaches do you have to go through to realise it might actually be the team?

  • Comment number 23.

    SaintDi : Royce didn't recruit Josh Perry. Josh Perry was recruited during Mick Potter's tenure.

    I may well be wrong, i know Potter was the coach when we signed Perry, but i thought it was Royce's decision as it was announced he would be the coach the following season.

  • Comment number 24.

    I wish Widnes would 'rush in' and sack Mr Betts. You Saints fans have been spoilt over the last few years! Mr Simmons there is a job waiting for you at Widnes!

  • Comment number 25.

    4020: Spot on.

    johneboy1886: you're wrong!

  • Comment number 26.

    No it wasn't rushed, the way we were playing we would have lost to Leeds, Warrington and Wigan, we would have lost 7 in a row, gone 8 without a win and have a real battle to even make the 8 never mind the top 4. Royce didn't know his best team, the attack was awful and the defence wasn't much better, although a lot of that could be blamed on one player.


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