Paul Wellens claims St Helens’ semi-final defeat was “very cruel”

St Helens have beaten Leeds Rhinos, Catalans Dragons, Wigan Warriors and Salford Red Devils in Grand Finals as they established their dominance over the Betfred Super League.

But that dominance ended with defeat against Catalans Dragons in the semi-final as Sam Tomkins proved the hero as he kept his career alive and ended James Roby’s.

But of course, after the game, the question was asked of Paul Wellens, how do you feel like on Sky Sports.

He said: “Yeah very cruel. There is a lot of emotions going through, we came here thinking we could win.

“At some point this run was going to end, we hoped it wouldn’t end but if it was going to end with a group of men like that, that’s the way to end it.

“We will come back as we always do, but right now it is tough to take.”

Reflecting on the 2023 season, he said: “It has been challenging. It started off well, but we have had our tough periods. We have stuck together and that is why I’m proud.

“I am a St Helens boy, I will always be associated with this club so I immensely proud to be associated with this group of players.”

Asked if he would do anything differently, he noted:

“It’s professional sport and it is about fine margins, I had a group of men who did everything they could and as a coach I don’t think I could ask anymore.”

The play-off atmosphere was evident from the get go, as was the physicality, with both LMS and Taukeiaho starting showing the intent for a physical start. Neither side truly threatened in the early stages with a Matt Whitley knock-on on halfway ending the most exciting attack.

Micky McIlorum made a mistake to provide Saints with territory and were it not for a brilliant defensive read by centre Ikuvalu then Bennison would have been in, the closest chance in a nervy opening 15 minutes.

The home side looked to have scored first in the corner when Tom Johnstone capitalised on a Jonny Lomax error, however Chris Kendall’s no try call wasn’t overturned by Jack Smith – seemingly for a shove from Johnstone on Lomax, albeit a harsh one.

The nerves were on show as Tom Johnstone knocked on from a simple pick up of the ball within his 20 metres however Saints couldn’t capitalise with Alex Walmsley dropping a carry on the resulting set.

Catalans took the lead just ahead of the half hour mark following a Sione Mata’utia high shot on Sam Tomkins. The Dragons opted for two with Keighran kicking over from 30 yards out to make it 2-0, the score remaining the same till the half time whistle.

Jack Welsby was at his very best once again, dragging the defenders wide to the left hand flank before playing a clever pass to allow centre Will Hopoate to dance through on the 50 minute mark to make it 6-2 to the reigning champions.

When a Moses Mbye high tackle offered the home side a penalty in front of the sticks from 30 metres then Adam Keighran opted to take the two, bringing the game back to 6-4, with the Dragons receiving the ball once again from the restart.

A Mitchell Pearce kick was knocked on by Jack Welsby and Matty Lees was then penalised for lying on at the play the ball, seeing yellow for the professional foul. That saw Saints drop to 12 with Lees in the sin bin and Adam Keighran score his third penalty of the game, making the game six points a piece with less than ten minutes to go.

After a flurry of penalties and a blocked drop goal from Tomkins it was finally the moment of magic that the game had been waiting for. Saints raced off the line to block the kick and Tomkins wound back the clock to dodge the chase and dart through under the sticks after a brilliant step. A supreme try!