Cunningham takes on a new role

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The Independent Online

The St Helens coach Ian Millward is convinced he can make rugby league's newest superhero, Keiron Cunningham, into an even finer player.

Cunningham, already acknowledged as the world's top hooker, turned out at scrum-half in Saints' 30-16 victory over their arch rivals Wigan in an action-packed Super League derby at Knowsley Road on Friday night.

Millward has made a habit of shuffling his players around the pitch in an effort to make them multi-skilled and believes that Cunningham, who ran out to an ovation from the 13,531 crowd following his decision to reject a move to rugby union, has plenty of improvement in him.

"I challenge anyone to sit down and work out where all 13 players played tonight," Millward said. "Something we are going to do with Keiron is make him multi-skilled. He's done a tremendous service for rugby league and I've got to make sure I keep challenging him and make him a greater player."

Without four front-line players, including regular half-backs Sean Long and Tommy Martyn, Saints once more defied the odds to demonstrate the spirit that exists at the champions.

They swept into a 22-6 lead with the help of two tries in five minutes from the versatile Paul Wellens, revelling in his return to full-back, and demonstrated their defensive mettle to withstand a terrific Wigan fightback.

Cunningham was a key figure, laying on two of Saints' five tries with astute passes, but laughed off the idea of a fundamental change of roles.

"I was only feeding the scrum, I wasn't playing scrum-half," he said. "It was something tactical me and Ian had talked about. He thinks I'm going to take Sean's shirt next year."

While Wigan, beaten for the first time in 10 matches, were denied the chance to take over top spot, Saints strengthened their bid for a top-three finish, not that Millward was looking too far ahead. "We probably need to win one or two more games to consolidate a place in the top five and, once we've done that, we'll look at where we can finish," he said.

As for Cunningham, he felt the night showed why he decided to reject a move to the Welsh rugby union club Swansea. "It was an absolutely outstanding performance," he said. "It showed the true spirit of the club and was one of the reasons I decided to stay. We had a few players out but we showed passion and pride and came through with a good victory. Ian said before the game 'let's make it a really special week' and that's what we did."