St Helens legend Paul Sculthorpe says he would be open to any role put to him by the club, following the departure of Royce Simmons.
Former Saints team-mate John Stankevitch caught up with Sculthorpe, who retired from the game in September 2008, earlier this week.
Q- It’s been an interesting week this week, and for the matter, an interesting start to the season for St Helens, what do you make of it?
I think it’s very early days to be overly critical of the start that the lads have made to be honest. Expectation from our own fans is always high, as we have had such a fantastic Super League history, so to see us maybe not doing as well as we have in previous seasons, there is always going to be that attention. Moving into Langtree Park with some new signings and exciting young players coming through and growing into the team, this all adds to the further expectation and of course, we all expect a strong Saints team every week. I think it would be slightly disrespectful though, to say that the only reason for us currently being where we are, is our own form, you have to give credit to the teams that have beaten us, they have all played some good stuff.
Q- As we know, you are vastly experienced as a player, have you been able to pin point any areas that have been a reason behind Saints starting the season the way they have?
I think injuries have played their part, as they do with every team at some point in the season, and the fact that quota rules have changed and salary cap restrictions are in place, it means that when you could once have strength in depth, in some cases, International players outside your regular 17, this is no longer the case and clubs have to include lots of younger players in their squad. Arguably, some of these young players may not be ready to be exposed to high level competition on a weekly basis, and I’d say that we have certainly had to in some cases rely on our younger lads to actually be leaders out there and its tough on them.
Individual errors have no doubt cost us at times and have put the team under pressure and unfortunately some of the lads haven’t had the necessary experience to be able to handle some of those situations, but as we both know having played in Super League, the only way to gain that experience is to experience the positives and the negatives first hand.
Q- With the start that Saints have made, and the reaction and expectation from the supporters, was Royce Simmons always under pressure?
I think when things aren’t going according to plan, the first person that everybody turns to is the Head Coach and he tends to be the ‘fall guy’. Whether that is right or wrong is extremely difficult to say in each individual case, as there are always factors that are outside everybody’s control but that have a huge impact on performance. I personally had a good relationship with Royce and I think everybody appreciates that he did a good job for the club, but sometimes decisions have to be made in order to get a reaction and as everybody with a passion for Rugby League knows, St Helens certainly know how to react when the pressure is on.
Q- Some fans have questioned the interim appointment of Mike Rush as Head Coach, but it’s fair to say that this is probably because Mike works behind the scenes at Saints. What will Mike bring do you think?
Mike knows the club inside out and has been here since I arrived at the club a good few years ago.
(I interrupt to tell Scully that Mike was involved in the Academy set up way back when I first signed for St Helens as a young lad in 1996)
He has worked in the full time club environment with the performance staff for quite some time and knows what is involved and how things should be done. He has been an observer of some quality coaches over the past few years and earlier and will no doubt have his own thoughts on what needs to be done. He has a lot of knowledge about our younger players and is heavily involved with the player pathway at the club, so his relationship with the players across the board is a strong one. Its worth remembering that he will be directly assisted by Keiron Cunningham who knows everything about the game and what it takes to get a St Helens team playing. Keiron will no doubt offer the lads inspiration and I’m sure that his insight into the game will rub off on the team.
Q- So, are we likely to see you in attendance pitch side or in the stand on Sunday for this week’s game?
I doubt it to be honest, as I am employed by the club in Business Development role which keeps me very busy, and is going great. It’s something that I enjoy doing, meeting sponsors and potential sponsors and to be honest, coaching isn’t really something that I have thought an awful lot about. Of course, situations change, and opportunities arise all the time, but as of today, I am looking forward to seeing what Mike and Keiron can get the lads to produce on Sunday evening.
Q- Will you be having a word with Eamonn McManus then, regarding potential opportunities further down the line? A man with your experience in the game would surely be an asset to a team, even if is in an advisory role maybe?
I think if I was to have a go, I’d like to earn the right to the opportunity, earn my stripes if you will. If Saints see a role for me then great, but I’d have to have the passion to do whatever that role entailed otherwise I don’t think I’d enjoy it. Coaching is obviously great when results are positive, but I’m sure it can be quite lonely when things aren’t going so well. I’ve been at Saints for a very long time and I have played with some outstanding players, so I know the environment that breeds success, and we still have that here, but for now, Mike and Keiron will be in charge of getting some stability and we will all be supporting them as a club in that.
Q- What do you expect to see from Saints this Sunday against Leeds Rhinos at Langtree Park?
It’s a huge game but Saints have always excelled and been able to raise their game against major rivals. I wouldn’t expect anything less than a committed and enthusiastic performance. We will be cheered on by a big crowd who will expect a reaction although most may expect a Rhinos victory as they are playing some good stuff at the minute. But, in terms of opponent, you couldn’t time it any better, we’ve had a couple of months with some ups and downs, but it’s a perfect opportunity to show everybody that the players’ spirit is still alive and that we can pull something out of the bag when it is needed most.