ADE Gardner admits it took time to get used to having former team-mates Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long as his bosses at St Helens.

It was, of course, Saints head coach Cunningham who offered the Walney-born winger a job as assistant strength and conditioning coach at Langtree Park when it became clear his playing opportunities were going to be limited – and one Gardner readily accepted.

But to go from being a large part of one of the all-conquering teams of the Super League era alongside the former Great Britain hooker, to working under someone who had a bronze statue of them erected in their honour outside the club's home ground is undoubtedly a change in dynamic.

The same can be said for maverick half-back-turned-assistant coach Long, but Gardner has now adapted to the change and is loving life off the field in his second year working with St Helens Under-19s, along with helping out on the rehabilitation side for the senior team.

“It was a bit strange at first, but you're used to it now,” said Gardner. “Although Keiron and Longy are good mates, you have to separate that because they are my bosses, but they're not like typical bosses in any way, shape or form; they're not at you all of the time.

“When Keiron first gave me the job, my remit was to be really hard on them and really old school, which was music to my ears! So as long as I keep on doing that, then he's fine with that.

“We had seven boys go up last year and another six or seven going up this year, so hopefully something is being done well.”

Gardner, who started out with Barrow Island before making his professional bow with Barrow Raiders as a teenager, is not the only connection between this area and the current St Helens set-up.

Greg Richards has become an established member of the Saints pack and was part of their 2014 Super League Grand Final triumph, while another former Barrow Island youngster in Morgan Knowles has enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016.

Gardner worked closely with Knowles last year and has been impressed with how the 19-year-old has adapted to life at senior level, carrying off St Helens' young player-of-the-year accolade at the club's end-of-season awards this week.

“He was in our under-19s system with me last year and was a revelation there, and he's moved into the first team and done exactly the same there,” said Gardner. “He's probably been one of our top-five players all season, which is fantastic.

“The area is still a massive hotbed of rugby league, it's just sad that there isn't a higher level for the lads to play at in the local area.

“But it's testament to the amateur set-up and the coaches, and the town that it produces these kids who can move on and go to play at St Helens, Warrington and places like that.”

The work being done by Paul Crarey and his staff in bringing through young players from the area at Barrow has not gone unnoticed by Gardner though. He was impressed with what he saw when he was back at Craven Park as a guest during the recent 26-18 win over Keighley Cougars.

Although he concedes he is not able to get back to his hometown as much as he would like, it is understandable given how the 33-year-old's focus is on helping develop the next generation of St Helens players as well as his education, having recently graduated from his degree course and now looking to start a Masters.

It has not been the easiest of seasons for Gardner and Saints though, with a mid-season slump threatening to derail their campaign and rumblings of discontent from the club's supporters who have become used to success.

But Gardner praised the way Cunningham was able to stay positive and turn their season around, and they head to Widnes Vikings tomorrow knowing a place in the Super League play-offs is already assured.

“You've got to be positive because everybody else is against you apart from the people in that room and if you're the negative one, you're going to be bringing negativity into the group that is going to spiral,” said Gardner.

“Not only are the lads going to be hearing it from the outside, they're going to be hearing it from the inside. Keiron has had to make some tough coaches calls and let a couple of people go, and decide we're going to move in a different direction mid-season, but everything has paid dividends for him.

“We're fourth, we're guaranteed to be in a semi-final and we just want to keep going because we've got a five-day turnaround between Widnes and Wakefield, so we just want to get two good performances going into whichever of the other three we play.”

Away from rugby, Gardner has been training hard for the personal challenge he has coming up once the season is over, when he joins a group of 44 who will be climbing to base camp on Mount Everest to raise money for the Steve Prescott Foundation.

“Unfortunately the years of rugby league have taken their toll, so road-running and walking have gone by the wayside,” said Gardner. “Fortunately, we've got some decent contraptions at Saints which are horrible, but good.

“I've been on the watt bikes more than anything and recently we've been doing so altitude training in a chamber up at Chorley, and we've got a bit of a connection with Liverpool John Moores and I've been going in there.

“It's just snowballed in the last 10 weeks and now we're realising it's suddenly upon us, so it's really exciting.”

Anyone who would like to sponsor Gardner for the climb or donate can do so via his JustGiving page at