Hanley slams 'outrageous' dismissal

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The Independent Online

Ellery Hanley has expressed his outrage and amazement at his dismissal by Super League champions St Helens.

Speaking for the first time since Saints terminated his two-year contract with eight months to run, the former Great Britain captain and coach insisted that he had received no warnings from the club and firmly defended his working practices.

"I was asked to do a job for two years and I wanted the opportunity to finish what I started," he said. "A brand new season is just starting and I find their actions completely outrageous."

Hanley, who led St Helens to Grand Final glory last October, has engaged leading sports lawyer Richard Cramer, of Leeds-based solicitors McCormicks, to prepare a case claiming wrongful and unfair dismissal and breach of contract.

Cramer said: "No offer of compensation has been made and, other than the one letter outlining the reasons for termination, Ellery has had no further correspondence.

"We want to know if they have any proposals to make to pay up the balance of the contract but there is also a matter of principle here. There is a question of whether they were entitled to terminate his contract."

Cramer added: "If they are going to dig their heels in, the matter will go to court and we are prepared to move very quickly. These days the courts are geared to resolve matters in months rather than years."

Saints, who this week appointed Australian Ian Millward as head coach, outlined the reasons for terminating Hanley's contract in a letter from chairman Howard Morris. Their arguments are that Hanley

:: made several comments at a sponsors dinner which offended the reputation of the club

:: refused to give an interview to the BBC prior to the Challenge Cup tie at Leeds

:: failed to attend the launch of Super League V despite a request from the Rugby League

Hanley totally refutes the complaints, insisting that his first priority was always to prepare the players for matches and that the letter came without warning.

"They never pulled me into the office for face-to-face discussions," he said. "The only time I received anything was last Friday when Howard met me on the motorway. It's quite ironic that it was at the same services where it all started.

"I was alarmed, amazed and outraged. The first indication I got was when I was on my way back from training and a gentleman came up to me and said 'whatever you do in life, I wish you all the best'. But I didn't think anything of it until journalists started ringing me up to tell me I was about to be sacked.

"I don't see the three points as reasons for dismissal at all and I would not do things any differently.

"I had told them I wouldn't be going to the Super League launch because it was a short week and I wouldn't break my duties to the players. I didn't leave the office until half past six that day.

"I can give you many dozens of examples when I made myself available, for example talking to students visiting the club. I would give up my time freely with no qualms because I knew it was my responsibility to make myself available. I realise people look up to be because I was a role model.

"I would always make myself available as long as I was given enough notice so that it didn't interfere with my coaching responsibility.

"For the Cup-tie, all my thoughts were engaged on preparing the side for the most important game of their lives. Some coaches work differently but my mind is locked on the game.

"At a sponsors dinner, I did say there were problems at the club but I didn't go into specifics. At no time did I make any comments about individuals and I would not offend the reputation of the club."

Hanley, who confirmed that he has begun talks with Morris about a new contract for next season, said he had resorted to legal action to defend his reputation.

He added: "It's important to realise that it's not about money but about principle. The job is only half-finished.

"I couldn't be diplomatic about what I would like to say about Tom Ellard, Malcolm Kay and Arthur Thomas. It's not printable.

"I always acted in a professional manner. My first obligation was always to the players to make they sure they always had the information on how to beat the opposition. If I hadn't done my preparation and I would not have been able to sleep at night.

"I was at the club sometimes at five o'clock in the morning and there until 12 o'clock at night, especially when we had midweek games."

Hanley, who revealed that he had donated his Grand Final winners' ring to Morris to be put on public display, is thought to have retained the support of fans and players alike but did not anticipate any friction for Millward to contend with.

"I had a meeting with the players this week," he said. "I will always follow their careers and it will be a privilege to be able to say I coached this collection of talented players.

"I'd like to think the players have learned under me and I think they will go from strength to strength. I think they will have a prosperous season. I wish the coach well, there is no malice there. He has a job to do and I am sure the players are so professional will continue to develop into better players."

Of the future, Hanley has business interests in Australia but he admitted that his appetite for coaching has been whetted by his success at St Helens.

"If someone came along to me now with a proposition, I would certainly listen and certainly consider it," he said. "I would be a fool not to.

"But at this moment in time, I have a million and one things to do and you can't predict the future. Maybe nothing will come up but nobody can ever take away the love I have for St Helens, the public and the players."