In this week’s big interview, TotalRL’s Aaron Bower sits down with Leigh head of rugby Keiron Cunningham to discuss his arrival at the Centurions, this Saturday’s Million Pound Game and much more.
And in this Monday’s League Express, Cunningham will break his silence on his departure from St Helens.
Aaron Bower (AB): Keiron, it seems weird to see you in anything other than a St Helens tracksuit, but here we are with you in Leigh colours. How weird is it for you?
Keiron Cunningham (KC): (laughs) I’ve never been anywhere else in my career from being a baby at 16, I’ve only ever known a St Helens kit! The prospect of going somewhere else was actually much scarier than the reality. When the rug is pulled from under your feet and that’s the situation, you get on with it. We don’t have the luxury of retiring as rugby players unlike football, so you get back into it.
AB: So why Leigh Centurions then?
KC: Well, a few clubs got in touch about starting to work with them in November and I had some choices available but I spoke to Derek out of the blue. I watched the game against Hull KR, had a meeting with Derek and it all happened quickly. He said he’d been toying with the idea of bringing me in and me and Neil had always had a relationship anyway. I met Jukesy, spoke with the wife and thought it would be a decent opportunity for six or seven weeks. But the more I’ve been around the place and seen what the club is about, I’ve started to think I can have a real big influence here. Potential-wise the club is massive; you’ve got the makings of a real good club here but we’ve got to put the right things in the right place and it really does excite me.
AB: Are you maybe back in the game earlier than you expected, then?
KC: Not that much earlier. We’re coming to the end of the season anyway, but initially it was about coming in and having a look. I guess Derek likes the way I operate and likes the way I work with the staff. I can influence the recruitment and help put the building blocks of the club in place having been in such a great system at St Helens for such a long time. Leigh are learning about how to be like that and they’ll openly admit that themselves. I can implement what I learned at St Helens and we can make this a great Super League club.
AB: Your job title is head of rugby – what is your primary remit as head of rugby, Keiron?
KC: At the minute, I’m in charge of rugby. That’s recruitment, retainment, staffing Randall that kind of stuff. There’s plenty of pressure there, I guess! I get the fancy stuff without having to do the dirty work, which is great.
AB: You must still have plenty of aspirations to coach, though?
KC: I still get involved on the coaching side of it. I’ve been working with certain players closely and working on different facets of our game. I’m not going to sit on my hands; I love coaching and that’s what I’m doing.
AB: How hard is it to recruit given the club are in limbo, then?
KC: It’s tough, it’s really tough. Normally I’m in the thick of it with agents who are your best friends, but luckily I’ve got a vast network in Australia and here – there’s more than one way to skin a cat but we’ve got to wait and see where we’re heading as a club and it all hinges on Saturday.