PAUL Clough has hailed the decision to bring Keiron Cunningham onto Saints coaching staff as a “masterstroke”.
The 23-year-old, a near ever-present in the St Helens side over the past few seasons, is delighted the current squad are continuing to benefit from the club legend’s vast knowledge.
“He’s still around helping with the conditioning and the skills work,” revealed Clough, who has been handed the no 16 jersey by new coach Royce Simmons.
“I can’t remember a Saints team without him and it has proved to be a masterstroke to keep him on the coaching staff.
“When you have people like Keiron, who’ve had the kind of playing career he has, you’ve got to use that experience, all that knowledge.”
Clough was singled out by Cunningham himself for praise last season, both for his on-field performances and his attitude on the training field. And the former Blackbrook ace admits Cunningham’s retirement will leave a huge void once the season starts.
“At the moment it doesn’t feel any different because he’s still around but the difference will be when the season starts and we run out for the first game of the season and he’s not there for the huddle,” said Clough.
“That’s when we’ll notice that he’s not there, both as a player and a skipper. No team in the world wouldn’t miss a player of his calibre.”
Saints have decamped to Leigh Sports Village where their next generation 3G pitch has meant the recent extreme weather hasn’t claimed a single training session.
“The mood in the camp is very positive apart from the cold and the wind!” he said. “The players are re-energised and ready for the challenge.”
Clough credits new coach Royce Simmons for instilling an upbeat atmosphere among the players.
“I think he’s been really good ... and I’m not just saying that. He definitely knows what he’s on about and he’s been knocking about with the right people, like Tim Sheens, so he knows his stuff.
“As well as that he’s a funny bloke but he’s serious when he needs to be. I suppose he’s got both sides covered so far in that he’s got the tactics and he’s got the players wanting to play for him.”
Clough, who joined Saints from the Blackbrook amateur outfit, making his debut in 2005, is confident about the contribution Saints trio of new signings will make to the team dynamic.
While Aussie Josh Perry is not due on these shores until later this month, having been given special dispensation to remain in Oz longer while he receives treatment for a troublesome injury, centre Michael Shenton and prop Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook have already made a big impression.
“Louis has been here for a while now and Shents had a bit longer off because of international duties but they’ve both been great,” said Clough.
“We knew what they were about as players but what’s impressed us all is their attitude.
“They’ve come in and they’ve wanted to learn, to get better as players. They’ve been really positive and that’s all you can ask.”