Did St Helens rush into Simmons sacking?
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.