McManus’ Special Night

CHAIRMAN Eamonn McManus talked about a “very special” season in the Manchester Evening News this week.

Here is an article that appeared on Wednesday:

It’s been an unbelievable season for Saints – what’s been your highlight?
Very perversely, and at the time very privately, coming out of the players’ changing room after we had been beaten 17-16 by Huddersfield in our final league game absolutely confident that we would win the Grand Final four weeks later.

The players had shown a level of commitment higher in that game than any throughout the season. We were clearly adapting to Nathan’s selection and tactical adjustments to reflect the losses of our key players in key positions.

I could feel that players knew so in the changing room and I knew that something very special was about to unfold. It did in the following month.

Four weeks after leaving the changing rooms in Huddersfield, I was on the pitch at Old Trafford facing a sea of ecstatic Saints’ fans in the Stretford End, where I had watched United all my life: it was a twilight zone experience. I was happy and relaxed.

What’s encouraged you most about the season and the way Saints have performed?
Not using or accepting excuses. The players did not talk about injuries, adversity or luck. They talked about challenges, adaptation, improvement and an iron will to win. There was not one iota of self-doubt for one second. Totally professional.

Who’s been your most improved player?
Luke Thompson. He is barely 19 and has had only a handful of first team appearances. I felt that he was the best forward on the field at Old Trafford in what was necessarily going to be a forwards’ oriented game plan for us. It was a desperate and uncompromising contest and he shone. Well done indeed Luke.

After the horrific assault in the Grand Final does rugby league need to do more to cut out thuggery?
These matters have to be dealt with by the appropriate body within the game and it has so been. Whilst serving his ban it is critical that Ben is now provided all due personal and professional support. His rehabilitation is now paramount.

During the period of his ban he will, in reality, be no more than a 26-year-old boy who will be extremely vulnerable emotionally. We must assist him in any way that we can and accept him back into the sport. There is a person behind the player, and I am reliably informed by all that it is a good one. He must know that from all. Lance Hohaia certainly feels that way towards him also.

The sport of rugby league should not be judged by this event, but by how it deals with it. This matter gives the sport of rugby league the opportunity to positively differentiate itself yet again by dealing with a high profile problem in an efficient, transparent, pragmatic and effective manner. I am confident that it will.

What other steps could be taken to improve Super League?
The new league structure, with a significantly improved funding base, will materially improve Super League next year. All clubs will be able to spend full salary cap without financial risk. It will be a highly competitive league every week and will produce a strong commercial platform upon which the game will readily and rapidly build.

The new World Club Series to be held in February is a marvellous initiative which will appeal to the national sporting public and not just rugby league fans.

We will play Russell Crowe’s South Sydney Rabbitohs at Langtree Park on February 22 as the Series’ highlight and also to determine who is the best rugby league club in the world. What we do in life echoes in eternity: strength, honour, shadows and dust indeed. I simply can’t wait.

You must have been gutted to hear that your coach Nathan Brown wanted to return to Australia – what news on his replacement?
Nathan had laid a strong foundation for the future as well as leaving behind a champion team. But, excitingly, it is a team that is capable of further improvement and achievement. The ethos and culture of the club has been the same throughout the history of Super League and so coaching changes can be made and absorbed very readily. A new coach will be appointed and announced before pre-season training starts. I have never been more excited about our future and that of the game.

Why has he gone back?
Entirely for family reasons. He has four young children and their grandparents in Australia are getting no younger. We wish Nathan, Tanya and the brood god’s speed and a happy and contented life for all in Australia.

How hard will it be to replace him?
We have the Club, we have the team, and we will shortly have the coach.

Given Saints won most of the silverware this year are you surprised that not one of your players has made it into the England squad for the forthcoming Four Nations tournament in Australia and New Zealand?
James Roby, who is one of the best players in the world, couldn’t go as he needs minor clean up surgery. After that, the only omission that perplexed me was that of Tommy Makinson. He’s had a great season and he was my man-of-the-match for the Grand Final. Thereafter we have a very young team and a few are close to, but probably a season or two away from, regular international representation. It will come.

What are your hopes for next season?
Merely to stay grounded and continue to improve. We will need to: Super League 2015 will be tougher and consistently more competitive.

What is your favourite nickname among your players?
Paul Clough is known as “the Owl “. It is not due to him being a font of wisdom. He actually is a dead ringer for an Owl when he stares at you. It is deeply disturbing.

What do you want to say about the fans who were so magnificent at the Grand Final and throughout the season?
Magnificent all season when their emotions and nerves have been tested to the limit. The Club had an almost spiritual feeling to it in the week before the Grand Final. I have never known the town and the fans to be so firmly behind the Club and the team. It provided a huge and serene emotional drive which became embedded in the players’ psyche.

They were a magnificent advert for our Town, our club, our sport and our values. Thank you.

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