St Helens officially sacked Royce Simmons today and have appointed Head of high performance Mike Rush as coach.
This is a move that came way too soon and one that smacks of a club that has lost all perspective on its true standing within the game.
St Helens is facing the stark reality that has hit other Super League clubs recently. The talent levels in Super League are falling and the old process of buying other clubs best juniors and a few good imports, it just doesn’t work any more.
If you look at St Helens over the last decade, they’ve had some incredible success in Super League. However, over time, this is a club that’s playing stocks have slowly eroded away and their last two coaches have been given the impossible task of rebuilding the club with juniors, while at the same time being expected to be contending for the title at the same time.
It is rare that ever happens.
Keep in mind that over the last decade, every single Super League champion relied heavily on imports. That stream of imports has not only declined in number, but also in quality. That means that in the past where a club like St Helens has been able to rely on a core of decent imports to build their side around, now they are having to make do with a lot less quality in that area.
This is a problem across all of Super League and its compounded by the fact that Great Britain itself is not producing too many talented players these days.
You don’t believe me?
Look at Leeds last season. They had a pretty average year by the standards of a top side. They looked horrible at times and they had an aging lineup. Leeds basically went on to win the Grand Final on memory alone. Even as they marched towards Grand Final success, they didn’t look at that great. Last years Leeds Rhino’s team would get thrashed by the Leeds Rhino’s sides of just a few years ago.
The same applied to St Helens.
Back when Ian Millward was coaching the side, St Helens were red hot and hard to beat. When Daniel Anderson stepped in as coach, St Helens were still very good, but didn’t quite have that edge of the years previous. When Michael Potter took over, the decline was impossible to ignore at that point. The club itself accepted changed needed to be made, hell, some players simply retired outright while others were allowed to leave. The core of their once great side had gotten old and the club needed to rebuild.
As this was happening St Helens brought in some young players, and at time they showed a few flashes. However, none showed any sort of consistency, and as Potter was replaced by Simmons, you now had a side with a core build around so-so imports, inconsistent youngsters and James Roby.
What was Royce Simmons job then? Surely the club didn’t expect to be world beaters with the side it had? Yet, despite that, Simmons managed to take St Helens to an improbably Grand Final appearance last season.
Surely with a young side, having come off last years Grand Final loss, his job was to develop this team further so that over time, this St Helens side can maybe one day grow into a champion team?
When you have a side that relies on so many youngsters, who have basically been thrown into Super League and told to sink or swim, you have to be ready for some growing pains. I think St Helens management lost sight of that fact. They looked at last seasons Grand Final appearance and lost sight of the fact that this is a club that is in a rebuilding phase.
They are also rebuilding during a time that is very difficult to rebuild in. With lower quality imports, a few of Great Britains top players heading to play in the NRL, an aging group of proven winners in Super League that are either locked into their current clubs or who are just no longer the players they used to be, and a group of youngsters coming through at all club thats have failed to really step up in most cases, the pool to pick players from in Super League is not what it once was.
Clubs like St Helens, Wigan, Leeds and Bradford have a history of picking the eyes out of other clubs in Super League and using them to refresh their playing stocks. The problem right now is….look around those other clubs that used to have their players taken from them. How many of them teams honestly have the types of players that stand out, that a top club would look at and just have to buy?
Bradford is the gold standard for a club that went through a highly successful period, lost a lot of proven winners in a short space of time, changed coaches, throw a bunch of unproven youngsters in, lost patience, couldn’t sign the same quality of imports….it is almost the exact same thing Wigan went through for years, St Helens are going through right now, and what the Leeds Rhinos have to look forward to.
Taking a step back from St Helens and looking at Super League in general, in the expanded competition where the imports are not what they once were and the best players are all much older, things aren’t looking all that great in the British Rugby League talent pool.
So what was Royce Simmons supposed to do? Did St Helens management lose their perspective on what is going on around them? Do they realize that who ever they manage to get in as their next full time coach faces and even greater uphill battle to rebuild this club?
Even if St Helens somehow manage to get a top coach (And looking at the coaching ranks, anyone decent is locked up as far as Australia goes) that person will step into a side that will have had four different coaches in the space of two years, with a group of youngsters who have had no stable coaching and no focused direction, and oh yeah, they have to deal with a general shortage of talent in Super League too.
Who would want that job?
St Helens jumped the gun and they cut ties with one of the better coaches in Super League who was doing the best he could in a bad situation.
When ever a club has success, proven winners move on and someone is left to clean up the mess and pick up the pieces. St Helens management and their fan base needs to accept that you can’t win forever. At some point, someone has to be allowed to do the dirty job that is rebuilding the playing roster.
If the club keeps getting rid of coaches during that process then it will take that much longer to get the job finished.
St Helens made a mistake sacking Royce Simmons. St Helens are the ones that are going to pay for it.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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