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Comparing Squads: St Helens 2022 v Leeds Rhinos 2010 – Can the Saints do what Leeds couldn’t and win a fourth consecutive title?

Only two teams in Super League history have won three consecutive Super League titles. The first team to do so, and only the second side in British rugby league to win three consecutive titles, were the Leeds Rhinos when they defeated St Helens in three Grand Finals from 2007-09.

A decade after that third consecutive Grand Final defeat, St Helens would begin righting that wrong as they went on to win three Grand Finals in a row themselves against Salford, Wigan and Catalans. Which brings us to 2022. The Saints stand on the precipice of history with an unprecedented fourth Super League title beckoning, but after a winter of change at the Totally Wicked Stadium, do they still have what it takes to claim the title?

Today we’re attempting to answer that question by comparing the current St Helens squad with the last squad to chase a fourth consecutive title, that of Leeds in 2010. The Rhinos had an injury hit campaign that season finishing fourth and losing in the Super League semi-finals to Wigan. Can the Saints go closer to a fourth consecutive title? Time will tell.

Fullback: Brent Webb v Jack Welsby

The comparisons begin at fullback. In 2010, Brent Webb was going into his fourth season as a Rhino and didn’t know what it was like to not end the season as a Champion. He finished 2007 as Leeds’ top scorer and even scored in the Grand Final itself that year. From there he was one of the most mercurial players in the competition in 2008 and 2009. With a skillset befitting of the best halfbacks, superb support play and speed he’s one of Super League’s most underappreciated fullbacks ever.

As for Jack Welsby, he’s relatively unproven in the role but has tremendous talent. He’s the reigning Young Player of the Year and a member of the 2021 Dream Team albeit at centre. He’s got huge shoes to fill taking over from Lachlan Coote who feels like a much more similar player to Webb. However, Welsby has it in him to be the next Sam Tomkins based on his skills and his try scoring prowess but is unlikely to be hitting those levels just yet. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes in 2022 as a full-time fullback, don’t be surprised to see him catch the eye however he’s certainly less established in the role than Webb was in 2010.

Outside Backs: Scott Donald, Brett Delaney, Keith Senior, Ryan Hall v Tommy Makinson, Will Hopoate, Mark Percival, Regan Grace

It’s easy to say Welsby isn’t yet established at fullback, but his teammates across the backline certainly are established. Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace are perhaps the league’s best pair of wingers whilst Mark Percival was a member of the 2021 Dream Team and is one of the classiest centres Super League has ever seen. Will Hopoate is a new face but brings certified quality and Grand Final winning experience making this perhaps the best backline in Super League.

But is it better than what Leeds had in 2010? Probably so, despite the class in that Leeds side. Unlike Tommy Makinson who is enjoying his peak years having been anointed the world’s best winger in the past, Ryan Hall was scoring for fun but was just shy of his absolute peak a year or so later and it took him six games to score in 2010. Meanwhile Keith Senior, arguably Super League’s greatest ever centre, was passed his peak at this point whilst Scott Donald was in the last year of his career. Having been prolific in 2007 and 2008 he only crossed for 23 tries across 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile Brett Delaney was signed as a centre but ended up being much more suited to second-row.

Halfbacks: Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow v Jonny Lomax and Lewis Dodd

Jonny Lomax has perhaps been the most important player in Super League since he settled back into the stand-off role fully going into 2018. Like the likes of Kevin Sinfield and other organisers before him, a lot of what he does goes under the radar but is the glue that holds this great St Helens side together. Alongside him, Lewis Dodd will develop impressively having shown glimpses that he could be England’s next top halfback last season.

However, no halfback pairing could live up to that of McGuire and Burrow. The pair played in all eight of Leeds’ Grand Final wins and were capable of inspirational moments of creativity but also nuanced pieces of organisation and were any defence’s worst nightmare. 2010 was a particularly great season for McGuire who scored some sensational tries as he racked up 27 in 32 games including a brace against St Helens in a fantastic Challenge Cup semi-final.

Props: Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock v Alex Walmsley and Matty Lees

This is where the similarities between the two squads become very clear. In their respective front rows, each has the best prop of their era. Jamie Peacock led the Leeds pack for a decade in which they won six Super League titles including the treble in his last season. In fact, it was his injury just days before their Wembley date with Warrington that derailed Leeds’ aspirations for silverware in 2010. Meanwhile Alex Walmsley has taken up the mantle as the league’s best prop in the years since Peacock’s retirement and is at times impossible to stop. If Peacock’s injury in 2010 is anything to go by, it shows the importance of keeping Walmsley fit to St Helens’ title hopes.

Alongside these two stalwarts are two greatly underappreciated forwards. Although somewhat different in their approach to the game, both Kylie Leuluai and Matty Lees are pillars of their side’s success and compliment their partners brilliantly.

Hookers: Danny Buderus v James Roby

The calibre of hooker these two squad boast demonstrates why they won three consecutive titles. James Roby is Super League’s greatest ever hooker and has captained his side to three Super League trophies in three years whilst Leeds had former Australian skipper and State of Origin winner Danny Buderus as their starting number nine. Buderus and Roby are stalwarts of the position, great leaders and organisers and underpinned the ruthless winning mentality of their sides.

Second-Rowers: Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ali Lauitiiti v Sione Mata’utia, Joe Batchelor

The only position until now that has constantly changed over St Helens’ recent reign at the top has been the backrow. At the end of last season, despite starting the campaign with Joel Thompson and James Bentley as their first choice second-rowers, they settled on the pairing of Sione Mata’utia and Joe Batchelor who bring a solid mix of work ethic and quality to the Saints and I expect them to kick on in 2022.

A similar blend of hard work and quality formed the Leeds backrow in 2010. Jamie Jones-Buchanan brought consistent performances built around high tackle counts and metres whilst Ali Lauitiiti gave Leeds something a little different through his explosivity and offload game which made him equally effective off the bench.

Loose-Forwards: Kevin Sinfield v Morgan Knowles

Super League has always produced sublime number 13s. Paul Sculthorpe and Andy Farrell are stalwarts of the role as is Kevin Sinfield who at this stage of his career was very much settled into the loose-forward role before switching to stand-off in 2011. Arguably Super League’s greatest ever player, no player has lifted nearly as many Super League trophies as captain as him and his kicking game both at goal and out of hand could sway any big game.

It looks as though Morgan Knowles is set to be Super League’s next great number 13 and has been at the core of St Helens’ recent success being named in the Dream Team for three consecutive seasons. Having recently signed a new deal, he’s set to go into his finest years as a player and could follow in the footsteps of Sculthorpe, Farrell, Sinfield and Sean O’Loughlin. Thus he, like Sinfield was for Leeds, could be key to St Helens’ continued success. But can he do what Sinfield could not and inspire his side to a fourth consecutive title?

Rest of squad: Matt Diskin, Greg Eastwood, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Carl Ablett, Luke Burgess, Lee Smith v Joey Lussick, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Curtis Sironen, Agnatius Paasi, Kyle Amor, Jake Wingfield, James Bell, Konrad Hurrell

It’s clear that both squads have impressive depth across a number of positions. In Lee Smith and Konrad Hurrell respectively, both squads feature a top notch outside back with final success already under their belt. Equally, both have a hooker capable of being a first-choice number nine in Matt Diskin and Joey Lussick whilst both squads feature plenty of top class forwards. Leeds perhaps had a lack of props compared to St Helens who have Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Agnatius Paasi and Kyle Amor to call upon whereas Leeds only really had Ryan Bailey and youngster Luke Burgess whilst Greg Eastwood and Ian Kirke could also fill in there but were much more suited to the backrow at this stage of their careers. Saints also have a wealth of quality second-rowers adding further depth to their squad which perhaps exceeds that of Leeds’ in 2010 who had to call on the likes of Tom Bush, Chris Clarkson and Luke Ambler throughout the season.

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