HE spent only a little over a season in Super League but Royce Simmons will be sorely missed following his surprise sacking by St Helens.
In addition to boasting an impressive CV from a lengthy career in rugby league, the 51-year-old Australian is also one of the nice guys whose dry sense of humour was summed up by his final public comment.
“If I had a neck, I’d probably hang myself,” he quipped to journalists as he walked out of what turned out to be his last post-match press conference at Bradford last Saturday.
Simmons would have been at long odds at the start of the season to become the first Super League coach to lose his job.
Although Saints did not win any silverware in his first year as successor to Mick Potter, they enjoyed a successful season by any other measure.
It was always going to be a transitional year as St Helens came to terms with the retirement of Keiron Cunningham and a season without a `home`, and it became much tougher with the loss of half-back pair Leon Pryce and Kyle Eastmond for the bulk of it through injury.
However, under Simmons, Saints coped brilliantly with the adversity, unearthing an exciting new half-back partnership in Lee Gaskell and Jonny Lomax as they reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and a sixth consecutive appearance at Old Trafford.
But for Leeds’ sensational fightback, Simmons would have been celebrating Grand-Final glory.
With a more settled team and a move to an impressive new stadium, St Helens were tipped by many to end their six-year wait for Super League silverware in 2012 and that must have made their wretched start even harder to stomach for chairman Eamonn McManus, who had worked so hard to make Langtree Park a reality.
They say the table does not lie and a run of five matches without a win took Saints into unfamiliar territory outside the top eight, but Simmons can count himself desperately unlucky.
St Helens’ poor run began with a draw at Hull KR, where the normally reliable Jamie Foster missed three kicks at goal, and they suffered a devastating psychological blow in their next match when Catalan Dragons scored a `miracle` try after the final hooter.
Simmons’ men would still have emerged with a point from that match but for Scott Dureau’s touchline conversion and they would have won at leaders Huddersfield the following week had one of Danny Brough’s goals not rebounded off both uprights and the crossbar to bounce over.
Unfortunately for Simmons, those results drained his players’ confidence and subsequent below-par performances against Hull and Bradford compounded the situation.
The untimely injury to James Roby also badly affected the team, which is still coming to terms with the loss of another immense and talismanic figure, James Graham.
McManus, who may well have had one eye on the fixture list when he took what must have been a tough decision, had clearly lost confidence in Simmons’ ability to turn around the team’s fortunes in time for the clashes with Leeds, Warrington and Wigan.
With Roby set to return for Sunday’s Grand-Final rematch with the Rhinos, it would be no surprise if St Helens were to get back to winning ways under the temporary charge of popular backroom duo Cunningham and Mike Rush.
And if, as previous St Helens coaches Daniel Anderson and Mick Potter have predicted in the last seven days, the team go on to earn another trip to Old Trafford, Simmons will still deserve much of the credit.