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Saints review of the season: Saints struggle in first months at new home
11:10am Saturday 6th October 2012 in Latest News
SUMMER rugby! Those words were muttered with a touch of humour when Saints kicked off their 2012 Super League campaign in freezing cold conditions at London.
Saints opened with a 34-24 win, needing a James Roby try to finally make sure of both points. It was the conditions that were the main talking point, with blizzards making life difficult for the fans making their way back north.
Afterwards coach Royce Simmons highlighted weaknesses with the side’s kicking game and some poor last tackle options – areas that were probably never wholly satisfied throughout the year.
The away game – was simply a prelude to the big official launch of the new Langtree Park stadium, which had its own potential pitfalls.
Yet despite all the wise words from old heads in the team and repeated warnings from the coach, the Saints players still could not help but get caught up in the emotion of their first competitive game at their shiny new ground.
As sporting theatre goes, you simply could not beat seeing the match ball being delivered to the centre spot by the legendary Tom van Vollenhoven, especially as he passed through a tunnel of Saints greats en route.
The visible passing of that flame from Knowsley Road to Langtree Park was always going to make a few legs wobble - not just on the terraces.
Saints were like a fox caught in the headlights in the opening quarter fluffing their lines of what had been, prior to kick off, a perfectly choreographed script.
The noise of the loud, boisterous crowd had added to the feeling of expectation – but when it slowly began to unravel with a succession of dropped balls, butchered chances and a reversion to one-man rugby it felt like the mute button had been pressed.
A Sia Soliola try sparked Saints’ comeback from a 10-0 deficit and in the second half they racked up a succession of points, but there were a few early warning signs of problems to come.
And we got more evidence of that in week three when Saints missed a glorious opportunity to go clear at the top of the table after their defence went AWOL for the last 65 minutes at an Hull KR side missing both first choice half backs.
In the end they had to be thankful to a last-second penalty from Jamie Foster to get something from the game – the wingman atoning for his three earlier misses.
Saints looked well on course to winning their first league match at Craven Park since 2007 when they led 14-0 after as many minutes with tries from Soliola, Michael Shenton and Roby giving them a great early platform.
Mentally Saints seemed to switch off their focus, which ultimately cost them both league points.
Essentially Saints were too soft up the middle, with Rovers big men Joel Clinton, Con Mika and Mickey Paea making inroads, roared on by the passionately partisan home faithful.
Ultimately it took the introduction of the fleet-footed Gary Wheeler to salvage a point with the young centre’s off the cuff style and step catching the Rovers big men out.
We did not know it then but this was the start of the dreadful run of five games without a win that ultimately coast Royce Simmons and Kieron Purtill their jobs.
But maybe significantly or purely coincidentally, that week started with national newspaper speculation linking then Huddersfield Giants boss Nathan Brown with the job for 2013.
Conceding what was this week named the try of the season after the bell at home to Catalan accelerated the sense of crisis that was gripping the club.
What hurt most was seeing Saints, out-Sainted so to speak. They had the game apparently sewn up after 45 minutes when they built up a healthy 26-8 lead.
But the Dragons got on a roll – with a three tries in eight minutes spell midway through the second half doing the damage.
Saints kept the Frenchmen at bay with some desperate defence only for the Dragons to keep the ball alive with no seconds left on the clock, squirting the ball out of impossible situations, tapping it on until Daryl Millard finally worked his way free over the whitewash to level it.
Scott Dureau stepped up to slot the conversion from the touchline to the delight of the Dragons players and send 13,000 out of the ground in a hushed silence.
It was a hammer blow for the club’s efforts to build ‘Fortress Langtree’.
The following week was another one chalked down as bad luck, with Saints losing by a single point at the then high-flying Giants – and to make matters worse the indestructible James Roby suffered a rare injury.
It meant Saints took on a tricky, if not spectacular Hull side without their talismanic number nine.
What followed was painful to watch – particularly for the home fans in the bumper 14,875 crowd.
Saints produced a thoroughly disjointed attacking performance which even flummoxed coach Royce Simmons.
Despite having plenty of ball, they looked clueless at times and the more the game wore on the more nervy that attack became.
Simmons blamed lack of communication – and that was clearly evident on the three times Saints opted to die with the ball on the last tackle.
Saints had led 10-4 but the game turned when Michael Shenton gave Jordan Turner the outside – and he promptly raced the length of the field.
That passage was enough to catch the eye of someone, with Shenton being released to join Castleford and later in the year Turner signed up to join Saints next season.
But when it was followed by three Danny Tickle penalties and a Wade McKinnon try something had to change.
It was a dispirited Saints side – missing key men in Roby and Soliola – that travelled to a cold, wet and windy Odsal on St Patrick’s Day. It was another 80 minutes of misery for an army of travelling fans who saw the Saints slump to a 12-8 defeat, stretching the run of games without a win to five matches.
That probably prompted chairman Eamonn McManus to step in and remove the coaching staff within 24 hours of the final whistle.
Although defensively Saints were sound – conceding two tries courtesy of a couple of Jamie Foster howlers – with the ball they lacked cohesion and leadership.
Something had to be done, and alas Simmons – the man who had guided the team to within a couple of injuries of Grand Final success the previous year – paid the price.
Yes, there was a degree of bad luck in some of the games, but essentially a rot had set in and the first season at the new ground, in front of thousands of newly attracted fans, looked set to implode. Seven games in, with none of the fellow big four teams played, and Saints were looking in a pretty sorry state in ninth.