Remembering when Ellery Hanley took the coaching reins at St Helens

Two decades have elapsed since arguably the greatest British-born Rugby League player of all time walked through the creaking doors of the old Knowsley Road stadium and no other Saints' coach since has been involved in such a controversial reign which only lasted from December 1998 until March 2000.

Monday, 28th December 2020, 8:56 am
Updated Monday, 28th December 2020, 9:02 am
Ellery Hanley and St Helens Chairman Howard Morris. Picture: SWPix

St Helens fans were in raptures when the news broke that the legendary Ellery Hanley had been appointed, even though his predecessor, Shaun McRae, had already led the club to the first championship of the Super League era in 1996 and back-to-back Challenge Cup victories over the Bradford Bulls at Wembley.

Shaun was bitterly disappointed by the parting of the ways and as the first journalist to talk to him minutes after his impending departure had been announced, I know what the job meant to him.

He hadn't exactly been a failure but it seems that chairman Howard Morris - a St Helens solicitor - and his fellow directors felt a change was needed.

St Helens coach Ellery Hanley is welcomed by Saints fans. Picture: SWPix

I don't know why but maybe his charisma and playing record was one of the major reasons behind his installation.

On the field of play, he proved a master tactician - using all the knowledge he had gathered as a player with, Leeds, Bradford Northern, Wigan and NRL outfits Balmain and Western Suburbs to help St Helens to a Grand Final victory over Bradford in 1999 with an up and coming squad which included the likes of skipper Chris Joynt and other serial trophy winners Paul Wellens, Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe - the latter trio going on to be named Man of Steel during their time at the club

How he would have fared long-term with those players under his wings is anybody's guess but following behind-the-scenes disagreements he was eventually replaced by Ian Millward, who had been earning rave notices as head coach at nearby Leigh.