RIP Mike McClennan

Everyone at St.Helens R.F.C is saddened to hear of the loss of our former Coach Mike McClennan at the age of 75.

Club Chairman Eamonn McManus said: “It’s with great sadness that we hear of the passing of our former coach Mike McClennan. He was a great man and a true gent.

“He always remained passionate about St.Helens and followed our fortunes throughout his life. I was lucky enough to meet him on a number of occasions and he would always call from New Zealand the night before our big games to wish us and all at the club well.

“His time as a coach at St.Helens will always be remembered with respect and fondness and he has a permanent place in our history.

“Our heartfelt sympathies go to all of his family, and in particular to his son Brian.”

Our club historian Alex Service writes this tribute

Michael James McClennan was born on 26th January 1944 in Auckland and was raised in the Maidstone Street area in the heart of the city. He played for the Ponsonby Ponies and Mount Wellington and won the Tetley trophy in 1970 as the leading try-scorer in the Auckland competition. Mike went on to represent the Kiwis in two Tests and toured the British Isles and France in 1971.

He was a hard-running full-back, who could also play centres and wing with equal effectiveness. In the programme for the tourists’ match against Saints, he was named at full-back, but did not play. Under occupations he was listed as a ‘freezing worker.’

Mike went on to become one of the most experienced and outstanding coaches in New Zealand, leading Mount Albert Lions to five Fox Memorials Grand final victories, before moving to Northcote Tigers.

Following the departure of Alex Murphy, Mike took over the coaching reigns at Knowsley Road in February 1990 and joined several New Zealanders who were already on the playing roster and familiar to him, such as Tea Ropati, George Mann and the marvelous Shane Cooper, who was his trusted on-field lieutenant.

Mike strengthened Saints’ defensive capabilities and the team gradually became firm challengers for major honours. They reached the 1990-91 Challenge Cup final and finished in second place in the Stones Bitter Championship 12 months later, winning the Lancashire Cup final against Rochdale Hornets, for good measure.

Yet the 1992-93 season remains the highlight of the McClennan era, when Saints and Wigan slugged it out for the First Division title, with the latter winning only by points scoring difference. There was consolation at the end of the campaign, however, with Wigan beaten 10-4 at Old Trafford in the Premiership final.

Mike left the club in December 1993, eventually replaced by Eric Hughes. Mike loved his time at Saints and was one of the first truly ‘technical’ coaches of St Helens RFC. His famous ‘header’ move, known as ‘nuts’ and featuring towering second-rower John Harrison, was typical of his ‘out of the box’ thinking. Mike also introduced Peking Royal Jelly as a ‘wonder supplement’ for his players.

He insisted, wherever possible, to watch a game from an elevated position and used an elaborated code when speaking to the media, jargon which often baffled the local St Helens Star correspondent Denis Whittle when he did his weekly column for the paper [Mike’s Men]!  He once said to the St.Helens fans that he wanted them to be: “Rational in their constructive dissention when they would be exercising their democratic right!”

Mike also possessed a dry wit. When his two-way communication with Assistant Coach Frankie Barrow failed at Headingley, he was typically scathing: “I believe the gadgets that we use resulted from an exchange for muskets with Russian cavalry during the Crimean War!”

After life in St.Helens, Mike returned to New Zealand and later coached the Tonga team in the 1995 World Cup, when he once again linked up with his good friend Frankie Barrow, who was his assistant. Mike also assisted Graham Lowe on the international front with the Kiwis and was Auckland Warriors’ Assistant Coach in 1999.

In these sad times, the club sends its condolences to Mike’s wife, Maureen, his son Brian and family in New Zealand.


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