Cunningham has faith and pride in St Helens youth

New St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham is a proud man, after it was confirmed on Monday that he would be in charge of the team for the next two years.

He has also already started planning for next season, as the work starts to build on a fine season of success for the Saints.

“It’s a very proud moment for me and my family,” said Cunningham.

“We’re all die-hard rugby fans deep down.

“The job’s already started. I’m already trying to put everything in place.

“We already had a plan as to what where we were going to go preseason-wise, so I’m just putting the finishing touches on staffing and other little bits and bobs.

“There’s no rest as head coach.”

One thing that particularly pleases Cunningham is the amount of work that Saints do on developing young players.

Many products of their own system starred for Saints as they won the League Leaders Shield and the Grand Final in 2014, despite a crippling injury list.

“That’s the future of the club,” he said.

“You can bring in any superstar from any part of the world, the future of the club is what you bring from within.

“That’s what I believe, and we’ve got one of the best youth systems in the competition.

“It’s something we pride ourselves on. It’s something we spend a lot of money on, which a lot of other clubs don’t want to be part of, but we insist that this is what we’re going to do.

“Our rewards are Greg Richards, Luke Thompson, Mark Percival, the list is endless.

“You can go back and look at lower than that at what’s going to come through again.

“As a local lad, I’m proud that we do that, I’m proud to blood these young kids. I’m proud to see them playing for England, and all of the spoils that come with being a good player.

“So I’m excited about the future.”

Cunningham was sad to see his friend Nathan Brown leave Saints, but is sure that his predecessor will go on to enjoy great success in his native Australia.

“Me and Nathan are very good friends, it was one of those relationships which just blossomed and blossomed,” the new St Helens coach explained.

“We had a great working environment, and we tell each other everything anyway.

“When Nathan went for the job at Wests Tigers, I thought that there might be a chance, and I was never going to turn the job down.

“If I got offered the job, I was always going to take it, whether it be this year, next year or the year after.

“When he didn’t get the Wests Tigers job, I thought he’d probably stick around for 12 months.

“And then I spoke to him and realised his family was really struggling, his wife was really struggling, having been away for six years.

“It was tough decision for Nathan to make, and I’m pleased, as Nathan’s friend, that he’s gone out on this massive high.

“He’s a great coach, he deserves all the plaudits he can get, if this can give him a leg up when he gets back to Australia, then I wish him all the best.

“He’s definitely going to be an NRL first grade coach. At some point he’ll get the job over there because he’s too good not to get it.”

As for the duration of his contract, Cunningham is happy with his two-year deal, and intends to put any speculation as to his longer-term future on the back burner for now.

“I’d just agreed a two-year contract as an assistant, so we’re just going to roll into that,” he explained.

“I believe that if I go well and things go okay, and the club are happy, then we’ll worry about that down the line.

“My priority is the team, not my contract. I just want the team to do well, which entails me doing a decent job with my assistants.

“I’m confident that we can do that.”

Injuries affected Saints’ structure in attack and defence last season. While Cunningham acknowdledges that any team needs a Plan B, he does not intend to play in the same style that Brown’s patched up team had to eventually adopt.

“I’m a great believer that you make your own luck in rugby league,” he added.

“You can’t allow injuries to ruin your season, and I do believe that the way we’ve played this season does give us a different way of attacking and a different way of playing, and it’s good for the side to learn to play that way.

“It won’t be how I’ll be playing next year, but if things do go against us, maybe we’ll need to drop into that formation again.

“It’s good to have a different plan.”

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