Cunningham: Good Friday clashes are spectacular

Saints coach Keiron Cunningham
Saints coach Keiron Cunningham
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There’s not much Keiron Cunningham doesn’t know about Good Friday derbies.

Having played in more than his fair share of Wigan clashes, the Saints head coach knows exactly what to expect.

He said: “There’s always a lot of emotion around these games - I’m sure Waney will have his team charging as he always does. The games are a great spectacle and form doesn’t really matter. The side you put out there doesn’t really matter either.

“We’ve put out strong sides in the past against weak Wigan sides and been rolled over and vice versa. We’re looking forward to it as I imagine they will be.

“When you look at the maths - last week’s two points are just as important as this week’s two points. But I imagine there are a few families where bragging rights will be won or lost.

“Being a St Helens lad the Wigan game was always the one I would look out for. I always went to as many derby games as I could when I was younger. It means a lot to both towns and it’s a great spectacle.

“I believe it’s where the term ‘derby’ actually originates from and everybody uses it now. The rights were given by Lord Derby to the Saints Wigan game.

“It’s definitely going to be good viewing again. In terms of preparation though, the big games are quite easy. As a coaching team we just get our work done and a lot of getting the players up for it is done by the occasion.”

Former Saints coach Nathan Brown and Wane were renowned for their prickly relationship in recent years.

But Cunningham is happy to admit his admiration for the Wigan boss.

“Me and Shaun are good friends,” he said.

“I look up to him and ask him for advice. He’s a great coach and he’s similar to me with Saints - he’s a Wigan lad and the club means everything to him. That’s why he’s so passionate about it.

“He would do everything for that club and Ian Leneghan is lucky to have him as head coach.

“I think Wigan have been good so far this year - they’re not far off. They nearly rolled Leeds at Leeds which is no mean feat. There won’t be many sides that go there and do what they did. “Waney’s going through a bit of a transition with injuries - as we are - and he’s trying people in different positions and they actually look like they are playing a bit differently too. They’ve played the same way for a few years and had success with it but now he’s evolving it, which is good coaching.”

Although Cunningham is looking forward to the Good Friday derby, he admits to concerns about player welfare - with Saints set to play twice over the Easter weekend and three times in nine days.

“I played over the Easter weekend for many years and it was always a horrible fixture,” he said.

“I thought it was crazy - it didn’t make sense. I understand the finances of it and it’s great for the fans because they’re all off over the bank holiday weekend, but we have to think about player welfare. Atelea Vea got injured last week because he was tired. When players are tired they’re more likely to pick up injuries - particularly in the modern game. Back in the 70s and 80s the game wasn’t as quick or as physical as it is now.

“I’m not sure what the answer is but I know I’m not the only coach who thinks it. Given the injuries we already have I’m not sure I’m going to be able to shuffle the pack much across the fixtures either.

“Luckily I’ve got quite a young squad and their resilience could be telling. It’s going to be a tough one but I’m sure we’ll come through it okay.”

Despite Saints losing their 100 per cent record in Super League last week, Cunningham, who refused to be drawn on the early shoulder charge which left Travis Burns nursing facial injuries, told how there were still plenty of positives to take from the game.

“We were probably the better side for large parts of the game,” he said.

“But we just weren’t smart enough on the night, which is not something I often say about this side. We weren’t quite on the money with our ‘good ball’ attack - we had enough chances in the first 12 minutes to be 20 points ahead.

“When you set up for a good ball attack there should be three or four options on. We chose the wrong option every single time but Hull KR were deserving winners on the night.”