THERE was an inevitability about Keiron Cunningham’s sacking this morning after a patchy start to the 2017 campaign was topped off by a dreadful display against Huddersfield; a game played in front of morgue like atmosphere that ended with a chorus of boos.
Full strength, apart from James Roby, Saints produced their most dire 40 minutes of the campaign so far in a pointless second half to seal Cunningham’s fate.
In isolation that dropped point could have been tolerated, but it put Saints back into the hole they had appeared to be crawling out of following the three defeats on the spin against newly-promoted Leigh, Wakefield and Hull.
The arrival of Zeb Taia from the NRL and return to fitness of Matty Smith appeared to have given the team a fillip and wins in Catalans and a rare home victory against Warrington followed.
But any bubble that was growing was pricked with the defeat at Salford – another game in which Saints’ attack struggled to break down the hosts’ attack.
And that continued against a struggling Giants side which left Saints with a playing record of four losses, three wins and a draw from eight Super League matches.
That record is strikingly similar to Royce Simmons’ record of four losses, one draw and two wins from the first seven fixtures of 2012 before he was axed and replaced, temporarily, by Cunningham and Mike Rush.
Cunningham may have wanted more time to see what his side could do with linchpin Smith fully fit, after his pre-season leg-break, but the pressure of the top eight/top four system means that the sands of time had begun to move faster with Saints in danger of not making the play-offs for the first time since the divisions split in 1973-74.
Saints were champions when Cunningham took over the helm from Nathan Brown for 2015, but in two years they have failed to make any of the big finals and despite an off-season rebuild they seem no better placed to challenge for silverware.
The departure of mature, experienced players from that team and the in/out nature of then scrum half Luke Walsh’s appearances led to two patchy seasons in which the bad starts and Easter defeats cast a shadow over what followed.
Last year, after a poor early defeat at Salford, a disappointing Good Friday, an early home Challenge Cup knock out and a debacle against Huddersfield at Magic, Saints appeared to have rescued something with a big winning run and Catalans’ implosion securing them a top four spot.
Harsh calls in both play-off semi-finals had cost Saints a place in the 2015 and 2016 Grand Finals, meaning Cunningham becomes the first permanent coach since Kel Coslett in 1980-82 not to guide the team to a major final.
It is not simply about results.
The supporters never warmed to the conservative brand of forward-dominated rugby – albeit a style not dissimilar to that adopted by most of his predecessors and many of his Super League contempories, but not seen to be the Saints way.
They are also becoming increasingly impatient to see youngsters Danny Richardson, Regan Grace, Calvin Wellington and Ricky Bailey to be given more opportunities, and compared the situation unfavourably to Wigan's approach.
Saints will now cast their net wide to repace Cunningham - and there won't be any shortage of takers for a job that has become a hot-seat since Daniel Anderson's departure in 2008.