St Helens dominated the Super League in the 2019 season with the League Leaders’ Shield before claiming the crown with a dominant victory in the Grand Final over Salford Red Devils.
Head coach Justin Holbrook opted to end his tenure at the club to join the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL, ending a highly successful tenure in charge of the Saints.
Kristian Woolf has inherited the reins and is under pressure to match the glory that his predecessor brought to the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Woolf’s side had their first big challenge of the season when they faced the Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge trophy.
However, the Saints slumped to a 20-12 defeat to the NRL champions on home soil as two tries from Joseph Manu proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Luke Thompson had put the home team ahead in the contest, but the Roosters soon took control of proceedings to ease their way to the victory.
It was St Helens second defeat of the season, albeit one that will not affect their domestic hopes.
However, there have been early chinks in the armour for the defending Super League champions that could affect their hopes of winning repeat crowns.
The Saints are backed in the rugby league betting odds as the leading contenders for the title, although Wigan Warriors will be battling them all the way, while the Huddersfield Giants have enjoyed a bright start to the term.
The Saints were imperious last season under the tenure of Holbrook, winning 26 out of their 29 regular-season games before dominating in the playoffs to win the crown.
This term, they began with a statement win over the Red Devils, hammering the Grand Final opponents 48-8.
However, Woolf’s side were then in turn stunned by the Warrington Wolves. The Wolves crushed St Helens with a brilliant performance, putting 19 points on the board as Daryl Clark, Tom Lineham and Josh Charnley all notched tries.
They shut out the Saints in the process of their victory, with the visitors failing to score for the first time since August 2016.
The result proved that Warrington might have a blueprint on how to conquer the Super League champions, having also beaten them in the Challenge Cup Final last season with another strong defensive stand.
Woolf’s men bounced back to form with a fine display on the road to defeat Hull FC. Matty Costello, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, James Bentley, Aaron Smith and Thompson all touched for the Saints, finding their rhythm in the final third once again.
However, there are a few warning signs for Woolf and his team that they may not have another imperious march towards the Grand Final and another triumph at Old Trafford.
It’s one thing to win the Super League crown – it’s another to successfully defend it. Leeds Rhinos were the last team to record back-to-back victories in 2012.
It will be a huge challenge for St Helens, although Woolf still has an outstanding squad at his disposal to achieve the feat.
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