Keiron Cunningham has been sacked as head coach of St Helens, the Super League club have announced.
The former Saints and Great Britain hooker, who is immortalised in a bronze statue outside the club’s ground, has paid the price for his team’s disappointing start to the season.
St Helens go into their Good Friday derby at Wigan in seventh place after winning just three of their opening eight matches.
St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus said: “It is both upsetting and disappointing for us all that it has ended at this point in time.
“Keiron nevertheless understands the position and, as a mark of the man that he is, wishes only well and good to the club, its players and everyone associated with it.”
Cunningham, who was appointed as the successor to Australian Nathan Brown after the club’s 2014 Grand Final win over Wigan, is the first Super League coaching casualty of 2017.
He came under pressure last season after Saints won just nine of their opening 18 matches but looked secure after they rallied to reach the play-off semi-finals.
However, McManus issued a warning after they suffered three consecutive defeats in the first month of the season that only winning a trophy would be good enough for a club of the stature of St Helens, and last Friday’s 14-14 home draw with Huddersfield was the final straw.
Cunningham, who is thought to have met McManus in the immediate aftermath of that match, delivered a hint about his position in the post-match press conference at the Totally Wicked Stadium when asked if he was feeling under any pressure going into the Wigan game.
“You’d like me to feel pressure, wouldn’t you?,” he said. “Course you would.
“This is the sport. If you don’t win, it’s a results-based industry and you are going to be under pressure. But it’s derby day next week and we’ll get ready for that after we’ve licked our wounds.”
McManus says Cunningham’s assistants Sean Long and Jamahl Lolesi will be joined by Under-19s coach Derek Traynor to form an interim coaching team until a new head coach is appointed.
Cunningham made 496 appearances for his home-town club from 1993-2010 and won every possible honour in that time. He was named in the club’s “greatest 17” as well as heading a fans’ poll to have a statue erected in his image to honour the club.
On his retirement from playing in 2010, he joined the club’s backroom staff initially as assistant strength and conditioning coach and became assistant to acting head coach Mike Rush in 2012.
He then served under Brown for two years before being promoted and was in charge for 76 matches.
McManus added: “Keiron has been with the club for 24 years as man, boy, player and coach. The commitment that he has shown to the club throughout, and in every capacity, has been without equal.
“His statue outside the ground is a deserved reflection of his immense contribution to the club. That is clear, obvious and permanent.
“We will now look to move the club forward and will immediately commence the search for a new head coach. St.Helens is a world-class club with a great squad of players and its only objective will be continuous success at the highest level.”