SAINTS’ skipper Keiron Cunningham is courting controversy by featuring in an internet TV show about blood sports in which he goes deer stalking.
The rugby league icon was due to feature on Fieldsports Britain (available to view on www.fieldsportschannel.tv last night) shooting dead a deer on the Cheshire and Staffordshire border.
In a press release promoting the show, the father-of-two speaks passionately about his pastime.
He may put himself in the firing line from anti-blood sport campaigners, but says he can handle any criticism that comes his way.
He says: “If the boss is watching, this is what I do in my spare time.”
Speaking in the press release, Cunningham, from Thatto Heath, says the buzz from stalking is similar to that he gets on a rugby field.
The press release issued by the website channel shows pictures of the rugby league player with a dead deer.
Cunningham adds: “I’ve played at Wembley in front of 96,000 people. It’s like your birthdays and Christmases and you’ve just found a £50 note on the floor all rolled into one. This is the same feeling. I get away from rugby, I get away from everything.
“This is what I love doing. It’s the same buzz, the same build-up, the same adrenalin. “And then the relief - I’ve shot an animal and I’ve done it right.”
Cunningham knows that his position in the public eye means he may attract criticism for enjoying shooting.
But he says: “I’ve got broad enough shoulders. I can answer any questions anyone wants to ask me.
“Why should we hide away for it? It’s something we love doing. We do good for the countryside. We put a lot back into the countryside - a lot more than other people do. I’m flying the flag for a lot of people.”
Cunningham says that from the age of six he was out “snaring rabbits” and got shotguns when he was old enough.
He describes his “bread and butter” as pigeon shooting and that he has been rifle shooting for about four years.
He added: “I was brought up on a council estate and nature was my way of getting away from it. Everything was for the table. It fuelled the hunger for it.”
He added: “We’ve got this smash-bash game of rugby where we knock each others’ heads off every week.
“It’s very intense. It’s not just a game at the weekend it’s a seven-day job. Off the field you’re expected to act in the best manner and you’re always doing appearance and opening stuff, training kids. This is a great get-away.
“You don’t think about anything - you don’t think about the game, you don’t think about bills - you think about footprints and animals and spotting - it’s fantastic.”
A spokesperson for the League Against Cruel Sports said: “It is hugely disturbing that someone can derive such pleasure from killing animals for sport.
“The League is against the killing of any animal purely for the purpose of sport and believes wildlife should be there for the wider enjoyment of others and not just the minority who want to kill them.”