It’s the classic fairy-tale final as St Helens, who topped the regular season table by a record-breaking 16-points and playing electrifying rugby face the Salford Red Devils, pre-season relegation contenders for many.
Of course, most neutrals, and perhaps locals, will be siding with Salford, who many people felt were more likely to be involved in a survival scrap rather than the Old Trafford showpiece as they look to win their first major honour since 1976 in what has been an incredible turn of fortunes.
They avoided relegation by the narrowest of margins in 2016 with a dramatic last-gasp win over Hull KR and have been found flirting with financial collapse on several occasions, but a fantastic run towards the end of the season has seen them rightfully earn their place in the Grand Final.
Red Devils Revival
The Red Devils, who are currently 4.00* outsiders to win at Old Trafford, reached their first Super League Grand Final after upstaging five-time champions Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium to become only the eighth club to appear in a Super League Grand Final since it was introduced in 1998.
But for those who have followed Ian Watson’s side throughout the season it hasn’t come entirely as a surprise with a number of notable performances illustrating just how far they have come – notably a convincing victory at Warrington in April, followed by an agonising defeat at St Helens in May, proof, if they needed it, that they are able to match any side on their day.
Meanwhile, in each play-off game, Salford have looked increasingly self-confident with a commitment to match their collective talent and have earned their place at the top table through teamwork and togetherness, rather than scraping their way into the final like so many underdogs usually do.
All Hail Hastings
Much of Salford’s success has been based around Jackson Hastings, a teenage star in Sydney whose his career went off the rails and pretty much came to Super League to reinvent has career at the age of 23.
But he hasn’t allowed this incredible campaign to go to his head and having won the award for the best player in the competition this week openly declared that Jonny Lomax is the best player in the Super League in his opinion, and the matchup between the two on Saturday will be fascinating.
As a result, all of the pressure is on St Helens who are appearing in their first final for five years and are naturally 1.24* favourites to take the spoils having enjoyed such dominance over the rest of the league in the past nine-months or so.
Win or bust for saints
The Saints have been the model of consistency during the regular season, winning nine more games than Salford over the course of the 29-game competition, though that will count for nothing in what is sure to be a cauldron of an atmosphere at Old Trafford.
In fairness, they probably haven’t been given the credit they deserve this year having only lost three Super League games all season, with two of those to relegated London when they rested several key players as they took the League Leader’s Shield by a record margin.
The Saints have been the model of consistency during the regular season, winning nine more matches than Salford over the course of the 29-game competition, though that will count for nothing in what is sure to be a cauldron of an atmosphere at Old Trafford.
Much of that success is based on their speed and their strength and particularly the performances of the versatile and inspirational Jonny Lomax, arguably one of the most intelligent players on and off the field who has played in seven of nine positions across the field for the Saints.
ST HELENS TO WIN TO NIL WAS 12.00 NOW 14.00*
Saint fans will be aware that their side does have a tendency to trip-up when on the brink of glory as, twice in semi-finals in 2018, they were pre-match favourites, only to be disappointed after poor performances – beaten in the Challenge Cup last four by Catalans and in the play-offs by Warrington.
Everything to lose
And that uncertainty has also bugged them in 2019 as they almost blew it before staggering over the line over part-timers Halifax in the Challenge Cup, only to be beaten by Warrington at Wembley.
Saturday’s clash pits the most dominant side that Super League has ever seen against one of the most incredible stories that the sport has ever provided with the game meaning different things to either side – and that’s what makes it so fascinating.
For 2019 to be considered a success the Saints must win, anything else and the “chokers” tag will be doing the rounds again, while Salford’s season has already been an unforgettable success, meaning they have absolutely nothing to lose – and that might just be the difference after 80 minutes.
*Odds subject to change