A 12-10 win over Catalans at Old Trafford, saw St Helens create history as they became only the second team in Super League history to achieve the illusive three-peat. Following in the footsteps of Leeds Rhinos from 2007-09, St Helens re-wrote the wrongs of the Saints side who fell to the Rhinos in three consecutive Grand Finals, to cement their place in Super League history as one of the best sides of the summer era. It’s been a brilliant journey full of highs and lows and outstanding rugby. But which of the last three seasons was the best from Super League’s current super club? Today we’re ranking their last three campaigns as they went on to achieve the ‘three-peat.’
Under a new coach with a slightly less exciting philosophy than predecessor Justin Holbrook, Kristian’s Woolf’s side didn’t get off the best start in 2020. With the same squad at his disposal going into the season’s start, his Saints side battered Salford in a Grand Final rematch to open their season before Warrington stopped them in their tracks with a 19-0 win. They reminded everyone of their quality in a closely fought World Club Challenge against Sydney Roosters, but their league form was no better than stuttering. March started with consecutive defeats to Huddersfield and Castleford which saw questions raised about Woolf and his side. But then the pandemic hit and lockdown came at the right time for the Champions. When the season came back in August, they welcomed back some injured bodies and put the league on notice with a thumping win over Catalans which was backed up by an impressive 48-0 win over Leeds who went into the first full round of Super League after the mid-season break top of the league. They won the next eight league games making it 10 league wins on the bounce as they pushed Wigan for top spot. Their wait for Wembley glory went on with defeat to Warrington in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and they gave up the League Leaders’ Shield with defeat to Wigan in a classic encounter with top spot up for grabs. Second place was theirs however and that led them to a semi-final against Catalans and they played the Dragons off the park with a 48-2 win which saw them renew rivalries with Wigan at the then KCOM Stadium in the Grand Final. A classic, if at times dull, Grand Final ensued as the two Lancashire rivals butted heads in a battle royale of a final. The game was tied late on at 4-4 and the Saints attack had been blunted by great Wigan defence. The Warriors looked set to win the game when awarded a late penalty but instead of going to touch and setting up for the one, Zak Hardaker went for the long range two-points and missed. A few moments later Tommy Makinson’s drop goal attempt hit the post and bounced up for Jack Welsby to score a bizarre late try to win consecutive titles. Despite the dramatic end to the season, this campaign was the worst of the three seasons. A slow and worrying start to the season, a disappointing Challenge Cup run and a missed opportunity when in search of a third consecutive League Leaders’ Shield works against 2020. As does the somewhat lucky way they won the Grand Final.
If we were handing out style points, 2019 would walk this list. Under Holbrook, the Saints played some exhilarating rugby and this was arguably them at their peak as they racked up over 900 points over 29 games. Throughout the season, they only lost three league fixtures which was the lowest number of league defeats by any side since 2004 as they cruised to top spot securing the silverware by a whopping 16 points. No one could hold a candle to them all season as Jonny Lomax came into his own alongside the brilliant Lachlan Coote at fullback. Even when not ultra-dominant from game to game, they came away with some famous closely fought wins such as their comeback against Leeds at the start of the season and when James Bentley’s late try saw them edge a classic encounter with a brilliant Salford side. From top spot, they battered second place Wigan in the Grand Final qualifier with a huge 40-10. Salford’s amazing journey that season saw them meet the Saints at Old Trafford in a historic Grand Final. With the rest of the rugby league world supporting Salford, the Saints blew the Red Devils away in the first 25 minutes with a pair of lovely tries from Morgan Knowles and Lachlan Coote. A superb solo try from Mark Percival in the second half then sealed a first Super League title for five years. It was a truly dominant Grand Final showing in which they weathered the storm from Salford in the last 10 minutes of the first half and pushed back against the narrative forming around the Red Devils. In isolation, this Super League season was arguably Saints at their dominant and attacking best but things didn’t go according to plan in the Challenge Cup Final as they went after a second treble. At Wembley a gutsy performance from a Warrington side without their first-choice halves exposed the weaknesses of the Saints in big games at that point keeping Saints waiting for a first Challenge Cup for over 10 years. This acts as a blackmark against the season.
In rugby league in this country there are only two major finals and winning both in the same season is certainly the peak which can only be adorned by finishing top in the same season. After one year in the job, Woolf’s philosophies started to take hold this year as the Champions became a real rock of a side especially in big games completing their evolution from the attacking yet unsuccessful side we saw in 2018 all the way to serial winners. Their season started as we expected with a series of victories in league and cup including dethroning Leeds in the opening round of the Challenge Cup with a classic 26-18 win. The real rivals for the season began to reveal themselves shortly after when Catalans beat them in France to cement their title credentials as fans began to question whether this Saints side had enough points in them to win the title. A brilliant semi-final win over Hull FC in the cup saw them return to Wembley where they ended a 13-year wait for Challenge Cup success thanks to a brilliant turnaround in the capital in an attacking final against Castleford. Their league form continued from there with a thumping win over a young Catalans side to keep in touch with the French table-toppers before they kept Wigan tryless at the DW Stadium and beating Warrington in a classic encounter at the Halliwell Jones as young halfback Lewis Dodd began to shine. Their battle with Catalans at the top peaked when they sacrificed a 30-12 lead against the Dragons at the Magic Weekend to lose 31-30 in golden point and that created the perfect narrative for revenge in the eventual rematch. They ultimately finished second before ploughing through Leeds 36-8 on their way to Old Trafford ending a 13-year hoodoo against Leeds in play-off rugby. That saw them book their place in a record setting 13th Grand Final against Catalans. In a great game not without controversy, a brilliant Kevin Naiqama double on his last appearance as a Saint saw them edge an intense game 12-10 to win a third title in a row. The mixture of the double with the three-peat, a gutsy Grand Final win against a top team rather than a lucky win over rivals or dominant win over massive underdogs and their comeback story from down and out in Newcastle to Champions in Manchester sees this ranked top of this list.