After almost a decade of sustained success, supporters of St Helens find their club facing an increasing number of challenges both on and off the field.
This was always likely to prove a tough year for everybody connected with Saints but the club’s decision to suspend Kyle Eastmond is the latest in a series of events that are threatening to turn 2011 into a nightmare.
Eastmond, who has already announced that he will switch codes to join Bath at the end of the season, has been suspended while the club conduct an investigation into allegations of serious misconduct.
St Helens invested a significant amount of time and money in Eastmond, believing him to be the natural replacement for Sean Long. There can be little doubt that the manner of his departure angered many of the club’s supporters and decision makers.
The reality is that there is little that Saints could have done to retain Eastmond but the uncertainty surround the England international has been damaging.
The level of Eastmond’s performances so far has been well below that expected. He has been widely criticised by supporters and there is a growing feeling that the club should severe their ties with the player immediately.
However it is hard to lay the blame for Saints poor start to the season solely at the feet of Eastmond.
The end of the 2010 season brought about a period of massive upheaval at the club. Mick Potter was replaced as coach by Royce Simmons, Keiron Cunningham called time on an outstanding career and supporters bid a tearful farewell to Knowsley Road, their home for 120 years.
Such changes were always going to prove challenging and the pressures of the salary cap, coupled with the loss of key players in recent seasons, means that St Helens are very much a team in transition.
A record of two defeats from Saints opening five games is hardly catastrophic stuff. But the quality of their performances and the fact they have lost both matches at their temporary Widnes home so far is worrying. However there are mitigating circumstances, particularly a succession of injuries that has prevented the club from fielding their strongest team.
If the club hoped that this season would provide a platform for a memorable return to St Helens in 2012 then they should be concerned. Eamonn McManus, Saints chairman, is an astute businessman and will recognise the potential long term damage that could be done by a poor season.
A crowd of just 6,050 witnessed the home defeat to Harlequins and the club is clearly struggling to adapt to the Stobart Stadium.
No club is immune to a poor season and Saints have enough quality in their squad to overcome their early jitters and mount a serious challenge. However with Bradford and Hull KR up next at home that is no certainty
Despite their current troubles Saints fans have reasons to be optimistic. The new ground will herald the start of a new era and they continue to produce a stream of talented youngsters.
Most observers fully expect St Helens to be in the mix come the business end of the season and the club has proven that it is capable of rallying in adversity.
However the dangers if they fail to do so should not be ignored.