I think it’s fair to say that Super League has been dominated by two clubs. Both St Helens and Leeds have won eight Grand Finals whilst the Saints claimed the inaugural Super League title with a first-place finish in 1996. The reigning Champions also have more Grand Final appearances to their name than anyone else whilst Leeds have the best Old Trafford record with an 80%-win rate at the Theatre of Dreams.
Unsurprisingly, the two are the only teams to ever defend the crown. St Helens did it first in 2000 before Leeds won five titles in six years from 2007-12. That success saw Leeds go back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 having created history from 2007-09 when they became the first team to win three Super League titles in a row.
That feat was emulated by St Helens at Old Trafford this year as they secured a third consecutive Super League title with a third consecutive Grand Final win against a third different opponent in that period. The 12-10 win over Catalans cemented their place in history as one of the league’s greatest ever sides alongside the Rhinos class of 2007-09. So, we decided to take on the impossible task of picking a combined XIII of players who helped Leeds and Saints accomplish the historic ‘three-peat.’
Fullback: Brent Webb
Fullback was arguably the hardest position to pick in this side. Lachlan Coote is a top-notch player and Hull KR’s acquisition of the former NRL fullback will take them up another level next year. After all we’ve seen him do that for St Helens even if he had the unenviable job of taking the reigns from Man of Steel Ben Barba in 2019. A player who possesses ever quality, he’s difficult to score against and is always at the heart of St Helens’ potent attacks coming up with a key assist in the 2021 decider. He’s also a superb organiser and kicker coming up with the game clinching punt against Catalans in this year’s Grand Final. But I can’t look beyond Brent Webb. The Kiwi fullback was often worth the admission money alone and that was no different when it came to the Theatre of Dreams. He had every skill in the book and could organise and create like Coote but he also had a keen eye for a try. He showed his class with the opening four-pointer in the 2007 decider against St Helens outfoxing the brilliant Paul Wellens. One of Super League’s greatest ever fullbacks, he doesn’t receive the credit he deserves.
Wingers: Tommy Makinson and Ryan Hall
These two do however. Both Tommy Makinson and Ryan Hall have been considered the world’s best winger at one stage or another during their careers. In 2018, Makinson claimed that particular accolade with the Golden Boot for his performances against New Zealand and was already a Super League Champion before St Helens’ three-peat. He’s been key for the red vee in the last three years nailing a drop goal in the 2019 Grand Final before his one-point attempt in 2020 culminated in Jack Welsby’s winning try. He was also brilliant again in this year’s decider. Granted he was shone the first yellow card in Grand Final history but without that intervention the game could’ve been very different. As for Ryan Hall, he began the three-peat as a fresh-faced youngster and was drafted into the 2008 Grand Final due to Brent Webb’s injury. He stepped up with a classic try in the 24-16 win and a year later he established himself as the league’s best winger finishing the campaign as the league’s top try scorer.
Centres: Kevin Naiqama and Keith Senior
Let’s start with the obvious. Keith Senior is still regarded by most as Super League’s best ever centre and his experience and power were key to Leeds’ three-peat. He claimed assists in both the 2007 and 2008 deciders and was at his very best during the 2009 season on the inside of Hall as the pair secured their places in that season’s Dream Team. His role in the 2008 Grand Final also deserves credit as he moved from the left to right and back again to enhance the Leeds attack and support the young Hall. That spoke to one of the few inconsistent positions in that Leeds team as the other centre constantly changed leaving it open for a battle between Mark Percival and Kevin Naiqama. Percival is an exceptional player and was a try scoring in the 2019 final, but his injuries and the Grand Final performances of Naiqama sees him edge it. He won the 2021 Harry Sunderland Award with two tries and was also superb in the 2020 decider.
Halfbacks: Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow
Jonny Lomax is a classy player and has underpinned St Helens’ three-peat, Theo Fages has been exceptional at St Helens and Lewis Dodd has the world at his feet. But there can be no looking past Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow. Two of Super League’s greatest ever players and two thirds of the greatest trio of organisers the league has ever seen. From 2007-09 they were at their absolute best and considered world class by most. Burrow was out of this world in 2007 and claimed the Harry Sunderland Award in that year’s final. Meanwhile, McGuire continued to score tries for fun poaching 21 in 2008 two of which came as he sealed that year’s title. Meanwhile, McGuire played an understated role in the 2009 final win creating Lee Smith’s two tries as the Rhinos secured a third consecutive title.
Props: Alex Walmsley and Jamie Peacock
The best prop of today and the best prop of the past, it’s no surprise that both St Helens’ success and Leeds’ three-peat came with one of these two at the heart of things. Walmsley has been unstoppable in recent weeks and helped fire St Helens to the title this season having been key in 2019 and 2020. As for Peacock, he’s Super League’s most successful player and the league’s greatest ever prop. He played 80 minutes in the 2007 decider in an exceptional performance as he formed the basis of a brilliant Leeds team. He was again magnificent in the 2008 and 2009 seasons even being nominated for the Man of Steel in 2008.
Hooker: James Roby
Matt Diskin has an underrated and underappreciated legacy whilst Danny Buderus is one of the greatest hookers either hemisphere has seen. But it’s impossible to look beyond the best number nine in Super League history. The Saints skipper has always been brilliant and was difficult to deal with even when up against this Leeds team. He is the lynchpin for the Saints side of today and a key organiser. Flawless in the 2020 final and named the Harry Sunderland Award winner, he had to be in this side.
Second-rowers: Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Gareth Ellis
If you’re wondering why no St Helens players feature in the backrow, the simple reasoning beyond it is the lack of consistency in the position. In their three Grand Final wins, the Saints have fielded five different second-rowers. That paired with the quality of the Leeds’ backrow sees Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Gareth Ellis feature. Buchanan is of course a Super League great with seven titles to his name and was key in these three title wins scoring in 2007 and always being a steadfast unit in the middle of the field. The same could be said of Gareth Ellis who was one of the best forwards on the planet in 2007-08. He, like Peacock, played 80 minutes in the 2007 decider and was top notch in 2008 even doing a stint at centre.
Loose-Forward: Kevin Sinfield
Super League’s greatest ever player? He, like many in this list, is in the conversation and is undisputedly Super League’s finest skipper. He certainly had more than a passing influence on Leeds’ three consecutive titles. In 2007, he played in and scored in every game on the way to glory and in the final he scored 12 of Leeds’ 33 points. In 2008, he conjured up one of the Grand Final’s most underrated performances as he used the wet conditions and his cultured boot to devastate Saints. Then in 2009, after a superb season and being named in the Dream Team, he claimed the Man of the Match at Old Trafford. He kicked well all night, nailed a smart drop goal after halftime to give Leeds the momentum and of course came up with the Grand Final’s greatest ever tackle to deny Kyle Eastmond a potentially match winning try.