Cunningham reflects on the secrets of Saints Super League era success

Keiron Cunningham played with some of the greatest players of the era during his playing days with St Helens. He is pictured here with a very different kind of silverware and teammate Sean Long and Keiron Cunningham

Keiron Cunningham played with some of the greatest players of the era during his playing days with St Helens. He is pictured here with a very different kind of silverware and teammate Sean Long and Keiron Cunningham

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The seeds of success to St Helens' rise to one of the leading lights in Super League were sown in 1995 - several months before the historic switch to summer rugby, says club coach and Super League great Keiron Cunningham.

Cunningham - then a 19-year-old rookie in the Saints' team which not only lifted the first Stones Bitter Super League crown on August Bank Holiday Monday 20 years ago but had earlier in the season beaten Bradford Bulls in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

Keiron Cunningham is now Saints head coach have spent more than 20 years at the club

Keiron Cunningham is now Saints head coach have spent more than 20 years at the club

Eric Hughes, the former Widnes half back, was at the helm as the Knowsley Roaders embarked on a shortened winter season and a hint that greater things were just around the corner emerged when they reached the final of the Regal Trophy in January 1996, only to go down to arch-rivals Wigan.

“We had been starved of any kind of real trophy success for quite a number of years but reaching the Regal Trophy Final gave us a little self-belief as we approached the first-ever summer season and Eric had played a major role,” said Cunningham, now occupying the same hot seat.

But Hughes, a former Great British and England international, was one of the surprise casualties and was replaced by Aussie Shaun McRae.

“I thought Eric deserved a crack at Super League as our head coach but we kicked on under Shaun and subsequent coaches and our success is now reflected by the number of photographs which adorn the walls at Langtree Park.”

Some feature players from that historic first championship win of the summer era - a never-to-be-forgotten moment for locals as skipper Bobbie Goulding led his team in the post-match celebrations after Warrington had been thrashed 66-14.

It capped a season in which Saints won 20 of their 22 league matches to pip Wigan by one point to clinch the coveted crown and world record buy Paul Newlove scored 36 tries in 27 league and cup appearances, but how good was that side to the ones which followed in their footsteps?

Cunningham, who has been part of the furniture so to speak since the pre-Super League days, was reluctant to compare teams and players from different eras but admitted that the first double winning team was good - even though they had a one or two reprobates their ranks!

Having sat in the press box during the past 20 years, I know who he is talking about but make no mistake they did most of their talking on the pitch.