Rating each side’s Super League experience: St Helens

One side that has seen plenty of success since the start of the Super League era has been St Helens.

They entered the inaugural Super League season with a new Head Coach, in the form of Australian Shaun McRae.

That appointment would pay off, as they won their first league title for 21 years. It was also a league and cup double, as they beat 40-32 Bradford Bulls at Wembley.

They went on to win back-to-back Challenge Cups with another victory over Bradford at Wembley a year later.

Saints would also make the final of the last two Premiership titles, but lost both to Wigan at Old Trafford.

After a trophy-less season in 1998, Saints changed Head Coach. McRae left to join new Super League side Gateshead Thunder, while Saints appointed former Wigan winger Ellery Hanley.

Never Write off the Saints

Ellery Hanley led Saints to their first win at Old Trafford for six years. Credit: Richard Long/News Images

Hanley led Saints to their first Super League Grand Final in 1999, where they faced Bradford once more at Old Trafford. A Sean Long penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides as Saints won 8-6. They became the first side to win the Super League after not finishing top.

However, Hanley departed just a month into the new season, after numerous disagreements with the club’s board. He was replaced by Ian Millward.

Millward led the Saints to back-to-back Super League titles after one of the most extraordinary playoff runs in recent memory. They played Bradford in their first game at Knowsley Road. With the clock at zero, they were trailing 11-10.

Saints were given a penalty just before the hooter went, and they somehow managed to keep the ball alive. Dwayne West then broke down the touchline and passed inside to Chris Joynt to snatch victory for St Helens.

They then backed that up with an incredible 54-16 win at League Leaders Wigan Warriors, who they would meet again at Old Trafford.

They beat the Warriors again 29-16. Joynt won the Harry Sunderland Trophy, as he lifted the Super League trophy for the second time as captain. Saints were able to back it up with a World Club Challenge win over Brisbane.

A year later, they would relinquish the Super League title, but earned their third Challenge Cup of the Super League era with a 13-6 win against Bradford.

2002 saw one of the closest title races in the Super League era. Saints and Bradford were only separated by points difference, Saints came out on top and won the League Leaders Shield.

The Saints and the Bulls would meet again at Old Trafford, in one of the best finals at Old Trafford. A Long drop-goal secured a 19-18 win.

It was almost a treble, but they lost against Wigan in the Challenge Cup Final.

They went trophy-less in 2003, but went on to win the Challenge Cup in 2004, as they got their revenge on Wigan at the Millennium Stadium.

A year later, Millward’s reign came to an end in controversial circumstances. He was sacked after it was claimed he had used inappropriate language towards club employees and officials.

History Makers

Paul Wellens won the Man of Steel and was instrumental as Saints won the treble in 2006. Credit: Craig Thomas/News Images

Millward was replaced by Australian Daniel Anderson. They went on to become the first side to be top of the table, and not reach Old Trafford in 2005.

A year later, Saints completed a treble, becoming only the second side to complete this feat after Bradford did it in 2003. Leon Pryce also made history after becoming the first player to do it with two different clubs.

They won the Challenge Cup after beating Huddersfield Giants at Twickenham. Saints followed that up by winning the League Leaders Shield and then beating Hull FC at Old Trafford. Fullback Paul Wellens was awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy, and also won Man of Steel for that year.

They were also named Team of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. Anderson was also named Coach of the Year.

Like Bradford, they also held all four trophies when they won the World Club Challenge. They beat Brisbane for the second time in Bolton.

In 2007, they claimed the Challenge Cup again as they beat Catalans Dragons in the first Challenge Cup Final at the new Wembley Stadium.

Young hooker James Roby won the Man of Steel award. They were on for a second straight treble, but they were heavily beaten by Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final.

That defeat sparked a run of five straight Grand Final defeats. They were beaten by the Rhinos again in 2008, 2009 and 2011, while they lost against Wigan in 2010.

Despite this, Saints won their third straight Challenge Cup, with victory over Hull FC in 2008. It could have been another treble, as they finished top of the table, but lost against Leeds in the final.

The club also produced the Man of Steel winner for the third straight year, as prop James Graham claimed the award.

That year proved to be the last with Anderson as Head Coach. He left to join Parramatta Eels in the NRL, with Dragons coach Mick Potter replacing him.

Changing times

St Helens departed Knowlsey Road in 2010, before moving into their new stadium in 2012. Credit: News Images

Potter lasted just two seasons in the role. He announced his intention to leave at  the end of the 2010 season. He ended up at Bradford Bulls.

2010 was a big year for the Saints on and off the pitch. There were no trophies, but they were leaving their Knowsley Road home, for a new, modern stadium in the town centre.

Also, legendary hooker Keiron Cunningham would retire at the end of the season. He won five Super League titles, seven Challenge Cups, and two World Club Challenges.

Perhaps fittingly, he scored the last-ever try at Knowsley Road against Huddersfield Giants. As a tribute, he was honoured with a statue that would eventually go up at the new stadium.

The stadium wasn’t ready for the 2011 season, so they ground-shared with Widnes for that year. 2011 also saw Royce Simmons take charge of the club.

In 2012, they finally moved in and hosted their first match there in January with a friendly against Widnes. Their first competitive match came a month later against Salford.

Transition

Just a few weeks later, Simmons was sacked after a slow start. Mike Rush was placed in temporary charge, alongside Cunningham.

They steered Saints into third place, but they failed to qualify for the Grand Final for the first time since 2005. It had already been announced that Huddersfield Head Coach Nathan Brown would take charge from 2013.

Brown’s first season in charge was a transitional one. A lot of the side that had brought success before were starting to move on or retire. New stars were starting to come through.

Back on Top

A year later, that came to fruition. Stars like Tommy Makinson, Jonny Lomax, Adam Swift and Josh Jones were all starting to grow into their positions. This was combined with NRL talent like Luke Walsh, Mose Masoe, Lance Hohaia and Sia Soliola.

They claimed their first League Leaders Shield since 2008, and returned to the Grand Final, where they would face Wigan. Saints would beat a 12-man Wigan 14-6 at Old Trafford to claim their first league title for eight years. Roby claimed the Harry Sunderland Trophy that day.

However, Nathan Brown left at the end of the season to return to Australia. Cunningham would step up and take over the Head Coach’s role.

Saints finished fourth in both of Cunningham’s seasons in charge. He was sacked in 2017 after being punished for a slow start. He was replaced with Justin Holbrook.

Whilst Barba’s stay in England was brief, he certainly left his mark
Credit: Terry Donnelly www.newsimages.co.uk

Holbrook managed to convince Ben Barba to join the club shortly after. He would have to wait to make his debut, as he was still banned by the NRL for failing a drugs test.

In 2018, Barba showed the Super League what he was all about. He claimed the Man of Steel award after a 23-try haul that saw him finish top of the chart. Saints also won the League Leaders Shield.

However, in both competitions, they lost in the semi-finals. A rebuild was on too, as Barba departed for North Queensland Cowboys.

Holbrook brought in more NRL talent in 2019 as Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo all came in to bolster the ranks.

James Roby lifted his first major trophy as captain, alongside the departing Justin Holbrook. Credit: David Greaves/News Images

It certainly worked, Saints finished top by a record margin and claimed their first Championship for five years after beating Salford in the final.

It was almost a treble, but they lost against Warrington at Wembley.

That match would prove to be Holbrook’s last, as he departed for Gold Coast Titans. He was replaced by Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf.

The future

Kristian Woolf has been given the task of taking St Helens forward in 2020. Credit: News Images

Woolf certainly comes with a pedigree. His Tonga sides were good at defying the odds to come out on top. Recently, they beat Australia and Great Britain.

If he can bring that same spirit to the Saints, they could well be a force again in 2020. Although, he hadn’t had the easiest of starts.

Rating

10/10- Saints have been one of the most successful sides of the summer era, and have never finished lower than fifth in the Super League. Given the rises of some clubs in recent years, that is quite an achievement.

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