Rugby League: Saints ban outspoken Hanley

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THE TALE of Ellery Hanley's turbulent time as coach of St Helens took another, probably terminal, turn yesterday with his suspension by the club.

Hanley has been suspended indefinitely on full pay while Saints investigate the damming comments he has made recently about the board and others at the club.

"On legal advice, Ellery Hanley is suspended pending investigations into the comments made about the club and its officials," said the Saints chairman, Howard Morris.

"We need to look at everything that has been said and make sure that, as an employee, he is given a fair hearing."

Hanley, the leading player of his generation and a distinguished former captain of Wigan and Great Britain, was appointed last August and took charge for the start of the season. His early results were exemplary, nine consecutive wins taking Saints to the top of Super League, but tensions soon began to surface.

A dispute over the signing of the Australian forward, Phil Adamson, poisoned the atmosphere between Hanley and the club's football executive, Eric Hughes, and Hanley has refused to deal with the club programme since being denied the opportunity to tell his side of that story in its columns.

Simmering resentment boiled over last week, when, in an article in one of the game's trade magazines, Total Rugby League, Hanley described the Saints directors as "disgraceful" and "rude and ignorant" because of their failure to strengthen his squad and protect his younger players from excessive wear and tear.

After an unconvincing win at Sheffield on Saturday, an entirely unrepentant Hanley launched another attack, volunteering to "talk till midnight" - quite an offer from one who never used to speak to the media - about the inadequacies of the club.

That left St Helens obliged to react in some way and they did so at Knowsley Road yesterday, Morris's brief statement being followed by more detailed observations from Hughes.

The former St Helens coach said that he had "tried to keep a dignified silence for as long as I could", but then cited two examples of mind-boggling transfer deals, allegedly devised by Hanley, which he had vetoed.

Those, he said, consisted of swapping the Great Britain hooker, Keiron Cunningham, for Richard Pachniuk from the Northern Ford Premiership club Hunslet and his first-choice stand-off, Tommy Martyn, for Halifax's Graham Holroyd.

Hanley has denied pushing for deals which would have been as unpopular as those with Saints supporters.

The evidence at Sheffield on Saturday was that the fans remain overwhelmingly in Hanley's camp. Hughes, however, said that he had dealt with a series of complaints about Hanley "from spectators, members of staff, journalists and four members of the medical staff".

"It was my job to confront Mr Hanley about those complaints and perhaps that's why he says I'm a difficult person to deal with."

There were plenty who told Saints when they appointed Hanley that they were taking on a difficult person. Their main concern now may well be to make sure that any eventual dismissal is sufficiently watertight for them to avoid paying off the remainder of his lucrative two-year contract.

Hanley himself made it clear yesterday that he does not intend to go quietly. "I'm disappointed in a sense because I just wanted to make sure that the players were looked after," he said.

"It would be unwise to say too much, but, while the suspension is on, I'll be fighting it."

His solicitor, Richard Cramer, said: "My initial instructions from Ellery are that he would like the suspension lifted and that he would like to get back to work as soon as possible."

The amount of bad blood spilled in public over the last few days makes that look profoundly unlikely, which raises the question of what next for Saints.

In the short term, Hanley's assistants, John Myler and Nigel Ashley-Jones, will take over, starting with Sunday's match at home to Hull.

If Hanley is dismissed, the list of British-based candidates to succeed him is short. Two names already being mentioned are those of John Monie, sacked by Wigan last month, and Ian Millward, another Australian, whose success at Leigh this season has impressed Saints.

There will be resistance to any replacement from Saints supporters, who tend to have a similarly low opinion of their board, and from the players, among many of whom Hanley commands great loyalty.

However, barring an astonishing turnaround, it seems that he has coached a St Helens side for the last time, and there are those at Knowsley Road who believe he will eventually resurface at Wigan.

n Leeds have denied reports from Wales that Iestyn Harris is to play rugby union there next season. Harris is under contract at Headingley until 2001.