FORMER Saints wing and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ade Gardner has brought the curtain down on 17 years at the club by taking a promotion to Super League neighbours Warrington Wolves as head of performance.

The 35-year-old has mixed feelings as he departs the club he joined as a teenager in 2001 – but he is massively looking forward to stepping up to senior position at a Super League club after progressing under Matty Daniels at Saints.

He did, however, want to say a final thanks and goodbye to the Saints fans who have supported him during the highs and lows in an eventful career in the red vee.

Gardner said: “It was a big surprise when I was approached by Warrington six weeks ago – and I have not really had time to take a step back and take stock about leaving.

“Saints have meant everything to me – I have given them my everything since signing as an 18-year-old, both with my playing career and then when they had the confidence to allow me to develop my coaching career afterwards.

“The club, the people of St Helens and the fans have been really loyal to me.

“I am part of the community now and I could not have hoped for anything more when I moved down from Barrow as a kid.

“When you take a take step back you realise that as an 18-year-old you know nothing in reality.

“Coming from there to go on to play in some of the biggest games to play and win everything at Saints and you end up in your mid 30s and with four kids to look after. It seems to have gone really quickly as well – those 17 years – it has flown by.”

St Helens Star: Ade Gardner leaps for the ball for the match-winning score against Brisbane Broncos

Gardner explained how he has grown up since moving down the M6 from south Cumbria – and is grateful to all those who have given him a leg up, guidance and support along the way.

And that learning curve was pretty steep after arriving at Knowsley Road.

“When I was at Barrow, I could get away with being the fast kid. It was a case of give me the ball and I would invariably make a break or score.

“But as soon as I turned up at Saints, everyone was fast, big and strong, and worked and was fit.

“I did not settle in really quickly and was really homesick and probably still immature for an 18-year-old.

“Slowly but surely the good, veteran playing group took me under their wing, congratulated me when I started training well and then we had the crack. It is easy for the penny to drop when you are playing with a great group of blokes.

“That comfort blanket at Barrow went away – not that I did not want to go up and see my parents – but I did not need to be going back all the time.

“I slowly but surely started my adult life,” he said.

St Helens Star: Ade Gardner

There were key influences on settling him into the team – and is not the first player to credit the role of skipper Chris Joynt in making that process run smoothly.

Gardner said: “Chris Joynt was the captain and knew when to give you the stern word or when to put his arm around your shoulder.

“He is a really good bloke – but I reckon his name comes up whenever you speak to any of those fellas who he played with.

“He was an old school player. He had worked as plasterer and had a really good perspective on everything, even though he was Chris Joynt and he embedded that perspective on you.

“At the time Sean Hoppe, Peter Shiels, Darren Britt they were in there – for experienced NRL players to say you are training well was a big boost.

“I played about 10 games in my first year and then in 2003 I played in the World Club Challenge game because Wello was injure. I made a big break down the right and had a good game in what was a 38-0 drubbing.

“The 2003 year was a real learning curve of highs and lows – not just for myself, but the team after winning the Super League the year before.

“But we had a five-year spell from 2004 where we were in every final and won four Challenge Cup and a Grand Final, and probably should have won another."

St Helens Star: Saints players line up with the XXXX Trophy after the record-breaking 46-14 victory over New Zealand in 2006. Leon Price, Paul Wellens, Keiron Cunningham, Sean Long, Lee Gilmour, James Graham and Ade Gardner

The departure of Ian Millward in 2005 and arrival of new boss Daniel Anderson took the wing’s career up to another level.

And Anderson was the first coach to use Gardner’s physical attributes – which when combined with Sean Long’s pin point kicking proved lethal.

“Daniel was a great reader of how people were, what abilities they had and the things they did well.

“For me personally I was still raw. I’m not one of these that had played since they were seven, I was a late comer and still had a lot to develop.

“Daniel was first realise my jumping ability and that’s what made my game in 2006 and the ability to take the high ball. He made me safe under it as well “He was just a fantastic coach and knew everyone’s personality – and was a great man manager.

“He was my best coach by a long way – 2006 was the stuff dreams are made out of the whole season.

“When you take a step back and think of the games you played in, like the comebacks against Warrington, and the big plays that you made – that is proper rugby.

“It is nice having the medals and I am glad I have all of those – but the last league game at Knowsley Road could not have been written better – that epitomised what it was like to be a Saints player in that era. Kids coming in, players out of position and veterans having to step up – and we got the win over Castleford at the end,” he said.

Towards the back end of his playing career, Gardner became noted for the strong way he brought the ball away from the line – sometimes as a personal cost – as he sought to give his forwards the best possible start to the sets.

It was a job he relished.

“I had always been a decent ball carrier and that evolved. When I was getting older I did not quite have the gas so I took it on board that this was going to be my job.

“I did that – there was no backward step and it is my personal peeve if I see someone not carrying the ball as hard as they can.

“I used to enjoy that and the lads appreciated what I had done.

“You know what happens, and you know what it is about when you sign up – I was more than happy to put my body on the line for the teammates and the club.

St Helens Star: Ade Gardner playing for Cumbria against England in 2010. Picture by Mike Boden

“It is not tiddlywinks and I was trying to physically dominate who I was playing against.

“It was only towards the back end when my concussions started to rack up – and you have more perspective when you have kids.

“When you start second guessing what you are doing it is time to transition to another role and that worked seamlessly for me.

“Keiron Cunningham had the idea of giving me the job – we had trained together. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here without Keiron giving me this opportunity. Some said it was a mistake, but that added fuel to my fire.

“I got to coach the academy which was good because I needed to learn and make my own mistakes. I did as much as I could with the first team in the day time, but the academy was my baby.

“It has worked perfectly. Matty Daniels does a great job at Saints as head of Strength and Conditioning and has taught me a lot.

“But when this job came along it was perfect for me – because I had set myself a goal – finish my degree, do my masters and be a head of strength and conditioning somewhere, so I have achieved my initial goal is pleasing."