NATHAN Brown was initially reluctant to uproot his family from their picturesque home in Holmfirth when he took the Saints job and contemplated a daily trans-Pennine – but now he is glad to be based in what he describes as a ‘true rugby league town’.
Be with the family now settled in St Helens, his children enjoying their new school and his workplace on the doorstep, the father of four can now devote all his energy and boundless enthusiasm into helping Saints come through what has been something of a transitional period – and to bring home some trophies!
A stickler for detail, the former St George hooker Brown brings a fresh pair of eyes to the post having spent the last four years at Huddersfield.
He has brought Jamahl Lolesi with him to assist with coaching the outside backs, leaving Keiron Cunningham to oversee the forwards.
The 39-year-old Australian believes he can get a bit of improvement out of every individual – at both ends of the age spectrum – but he does not think there is anything drastically wrong with a team that only lost five games from March last year.
Brown said: “St Helens have been very successful over the past 15 years or so. When they are not winning they are nearly winning.
“They have set a high benchmark here, but over the past six or seven years they have lost a great player every season – the likes of Sculthorpe, Long, Cunningham and then Graham to Australia.
“When you go through a list of greats who will be talked about in 40 years time, St Helens has lost a lot in a period of time that different coaches and players have had to adjust to here. That transition is a tough job for any coach.
“St Helens have kept up there, which is obviously a credit to the culture of the club and the playing strength.
“It is fortunate that this year we have not lost a player of that ilk.”
Despite being aged under 40, Brown brings a wealth of experience and no little technical expertise to the post at Saints.
Having made his playing debut with St George in Sydney in 1993, Brown’s career was cut short with a neck injury prior to the start of the 2001 NRL campaign.
However, within two years he became the youngest coach in the Australian competition’s history by taking charge of the Dragons at the age of 29.
After six years at the helm there, he left to come to England, where he had Huddersfield playing an attractive brand of football, guiding them to Wembley in 2009.
After a blistering start last term, Huddersfield faded badly, and Brown departed after July’s Challenge Cup semi final defeat.
It gave Brown time to take stock and enjoy a short break back home in Australia – but he did not switch off from thinking about what needed to be done on his return to the Old Dart.
He said: “You always think about rugby league when you are a coach – I had a five-week break but was already thinking about moving forward with St Helens.
“I am pleased with what I have found here. The facilities are tremendous, with a 3g pitch on one side, the pitches on the other. The gym, offices and computer room all on one site is very beneficial and saves you a lot of wasted hours, which is good for the players because they know that when they turn up here they are pretty much here until they are done.”
But the biggest thing that has hit him has been the fact that this is a rugby league town through and through – and it something he feels at home with.
He said: “It is a good challenge with it being a strong rugby league town and having a vast number of good young players and some quality imports.
“The first thing Keiron (Cunningham) said when I came in here was that ‘We are not too far away’ – and the scorebook tells you that.
“Last year’s team lost just five games once Keiron and Rushy took over – three of those to a Wigan side that was on fire at the time – and had the games against Warrington in the semi finals been swapped around then all of a sudden you are singing a different story and I probably would not have been required to have come here.
“If you look at St Helens you see a club that hasn’t won a trophy for four years but has competed in three Grand Finals and was one game from a Grand Final, so it is not like you have to come here and rewrite the book.
“Our main goal was to get individual improvement out of every player, be that a Paul Wellens at his age and experience or from one of the younger players.
“If we can get some improvement – physically or mentally, in attack or defence – off all the players then that can help us a lot.
“St Helens have a style of play that does quite well here, or they would not be finishing where they have been finishing. So it is not about changing but just adding one or two things to it see where that takes us.
“It is about adding to that and using the players in slightly different ways at times. It takes a lot of work when you do that, and you need to get the buy in and belief of the players, which is one of the arts of coaching.”
Saints started last year abysmally – and at that time Brown’s name first appeared on the club’s radar.
However, the way the year ended following the departure of Royce Simmons in March made Brown check what prescription was needed at the club.
“When I was first appointed after what happened, St Helens were where they were and playing how they were. Then they started to play in a different sort of way, which made my outlook of what needed to be done here change.
“I got a lot of education out of watching St Helens in the different times of the year, which made me realise a few things with regards to planning for what needed to be done," he said.