The Grand Final is the epitome of greatness in Super League: win it and you will go down in the history books, lose it and you will be ridiculed until the new season starts.
Despite Super League being created in 1996, the Grand Final was not brought into the calendar until 1998. Since then, only four teams have won the showpiece event. But just which five sides should really have won at Old Trafford, only to fall short?
Bradford Bulls – 1999
The Bulls had enjoyed a superb season heading into the 1999 Grand Final, finishing first by five points having lost just four times in 30 games. Even more remarkably, Bradford had thrashed eventual winners St Helens 40-4 in the play-off semi-finals only to then lose 8-6 to the same team at Old Trafford. To rub salt into the wounds, Bradford’s Henry Paul was awarded the Harry Sunderland trophy for a man-of-the-match performance in what was a seriously close encounter. The Bulls did go on to win the Grand Final in 2001, but the lack of a title in 1999 was an injustice to say the least.
St Helens – 2005
With Man of Steel Jamie Lyon in tow, St Helens were incredible to watch in 2005, winning 23 out of a possible 28 games to end up top of the Super League ladder. Unfortunately, Saints didn’t even manage to reach the Grand Final that year, losing to eventual champions Bradford in the elimination play-off in what was an interesting turn of fate to the one listed above. But, the entertainment on show certainly warranted a better finish, even if the Lancashire club did avenge the defeat a year later.
Huddersfield Giants – 2013
Huddersfield have faltered in recent seasons, but let’s not forget that they were once battling for silverware at the top of the table at the beginning of the 2010s. In 2013, the Giants finished top of Super League, losing just six league games before exiting the play-offs at the semi-final stages. Danny Brough was crowned Man of Steel that year after his 281 points haul helped steer Huddersfield within a game of glory. Of course, the downfall after leaves a lot to be desired, but the Giants enjoyed a class year in 2012.
Castleford Tigers – 2017
There’s perhaps little doubt that the Tigers of 2017 would be the first choice of most of the Rugby League fraternity. The West Yorkshire club had swept aside all challengers for the bulk of the season, losing just five Super League games all year to finish first for the first time in their history. It appeared Castleford would falter at the semi-final play-off stage, but a Golden Point victory over St Helens made it seem like destiny was on the Tigers’ side. And, after suffering two relegations through the noughties, nobody would have complained had Castleford lifted the trophy at Old Trafford. As it was, Leeds – whom the Tigers had thrashed 66-10 earlier in the season – channelled their champion spirit to triumph 24-6 in what was Castleford’s worst performance of the year.
St Helens – 2018
In a season where Saints lost a mere four league games from 30, it would have been anything other than unusual not to see them the lift the trophy at Old Trafford. As it was, their nearest and bitterest rivals Wigan ended up champions with St Helens succumbing to a 18-13 semi-final defeat to Warrington. The fact that Justin Holbrook’s side didn’t even make the final was one of Super League’s greatest travesties, though they have certainly made up for it since with back-to-back Grand Final successes. Saints players scooped up at the end-of-year awards too with Ben Barba winning the Man of Steel and Danny Richardson the league’s top points-scorer.