KEIRON Cunningham says Wigan boss Shaun Wane was among the first to congratulate him on his appointment as St Helens’ new head coach.
The two were arch rivals nine days ago when Saints beat the Warriors 14-6 in a Grand Final marred by the dismissal of Ben Flower for punching Lance Hohaia, but Cunningham revealed the friendship which exists between the two former players.
“I didn’t know I had that many friends,” said Cunningham, who has been promoted from the role of assistant to succeed Australian Nathan Brown.
“Shaun Wane was on the phone before the press conference. Shaun is a really good friend of mine.
“(Castleford coach) Daryl Powell has also been on. He’s another good English coach and it’s good to have a good crop of English coaches coming through.”
The appointment of the 37-year-old former Great Britain hooker, on a two-year deal, leaves just two overseas coaches in charge of the 12 Super League clubs – Warrington’s former England boss Tony Smith, who has British citizenship, and Wakefield’s James Webster, who at 35 is the youngest head coach in the top flight.
Cunningham, who insists he is ready for the role, was the logical choice to take over from Brown, who stepped down after the Grand Final in order to take his young family home to Australia.
The newly crowned Super League champions readily agreed to release the former St George and Huddersfield boss from the 12 months remaining on his three-year contract in the knowledge that they had a ready-made replacement.
Cunningham, who joined the St Helens backroom staff after bringing his 17-year playing career to a halt four years ago, assisted then general manager Mike Rush for most of the 2012 season following the departure of Royce Simmons and acted as the right-hand man to Brown for the last two years.
“I had agreed an extra two-year contract as an assistant but the idea was for Nathan to get me up to speed and, if I was ready, then I’d get the job,” said Cunningham.
“I’m quite a humble person and, if I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”
The appointment is sure to go down well with supporters, who in 2010 overwhelmingly selected him from a list of all-time greats to be the subject of a bronze, life-size statue, which was erected in the town centre and relocated to Langtree Park when St Helens moved into their new stadium three years ago.
Cunningham, who made 419 appearances for his home-town club from 1993 to 2010, is Saints’ first British coach for 14 years – since Ellery Hanley – and the first man to coach his home-town club since Alex Murphy held the reins from 1985 to 1990.