St Helens will take on the Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford this weekend as they look to retain their title in the Super League Grand Final.
And should they overcome their French opponents on Saturday night, they will complete a hat-trick of Super League Grand Final wins in a row – something that no Saints side has achieved in the club’s illustrious history.
Kristian Woolf’s men thrashed Leeds Rhinos 36-8 to reach the final and could stake their claim as one of the best Rugby League sides in recent history by completing an epic three-peat.
They turned on the style to secure that emphatic semi-final which took them to a record-extending 13th Grand Final thanks to two tries apiece from Mark Percival and winger Regan Grace while Kevin Naiqama was also among the scorers on his final home appearance.
St Helens have won the Grand Final eight times and are the back-to-back champions following a 23-6 victory over Salford Red Devils in the 2019 final, before playing out a tight and closely-fought affair against Wigan Warriors last year, eventually winning a thrilling encounter 8-4 in the dying moments.
“It can’t be understated what an achievement it would be to make it three in a row,” Kevin Pender from Independent St Helens fans website Redvee.Net tells FansBet.
“There have been whispers about a historic three-peat since the last Grand Final win and as the season has gone on it’s become a real possibility.
“It’s a chance to create a proper legacy which, in a salary-capped sport, shouldn’t be under-estimated.
“In a way, that does add a little more pressure, but I think that is tempered with the fact we’re going into the Grand Final after finishing second and losing twice to Catalans during the season.
“If we’d run away with the league and beaten Catalans handsomely I think the pressure would’ve been a lot greater than it will be.”
A victory on Saturday would mean that St Helens would equal Leeds Rhinos’ achievement of winning three titles on the spin – something they achieved back in 2009 under Brian McClennan – and they would also tie the Rhinos’ all-time winning tally for winners of the sought-after trophy.
And Kevin is more than aware that comparisons will be made between that great side and the current Saints team.
“If we win on Saturday then comparisons with other great sides will be made, and rightly so,” he says.
“It’s difficult to put them above teams in the past 25 years because the game has changed but they’re certainly up there with the best.”
Standing between the Saints and immortality is a Catalans side looking to make history of their own after a meteoric rise from relegation candidates to League Leader’s Shield winners.
Just four years ago the Dragons were on the brink of departing Super League, only staying up courtesy of a 26-10 win over Leigh Centurions in the “Million Pound Game.”
But since then the Perpignan-based outfit has gone from strength-to-strength, a journey which saw the side top the Super League table at the end of the 2020/21 regular season.
In the league itself prior to the playoffs, Catalans finished on 38 points from 23 matches, equating to an 82.61% win percentage, which was far superior to anybody else in the division.
St Helens were the second-best team win percentage-wise, having won 16 of 21 matches, ultimately meaning that the strongest two sides have made it to the most prestigious stage of the season.
Throughout the season there have been some outstanding performers in the Catalans’ ranks with Sam Tomkins being named as the Man of Steel, whilst James Maloney finished as the top points scorer in the division with 226.
They have also shown what they can do on their day by hammering the likes of Leigh Centurions 64-0, which is the biggest home victory of the 2021 Super League season.
And when these two sides met at Magic Weekend at St James’ Park in September, they played out a thriller as Catalans recovered from an 18-6 deficit to win the match 31-30 thanks to Maloney’s drop goal in golden point extra time.
The victory for the Dragons was all the sweeter as it sealed their first-ever Super league Leaders’ Shield against their nearest challengers and the Saints won’t be taking anything for granted on Saturday night.
“Catalans should go into the final as favourites,” explains Kevin.
“They’ve been the most consistent team all year, they’ve only lost against us this season when they were depleted and have good seasoned pros in their ranks.
“Grand Finals aren’t usually known for swashbuckling rugby so the packs are key.
“If Catalans can give James Maloney and if fit Sam Tomkins room to create it will cause Saints problems.
“We also know after Magic Weekend that Catalans don’t stop playing when everyone has written them off.”
Much will be expected of Saints captain and club legend James Roby on Saturday, who recently agreed a one-year contract extension – meaning he will prolong his career into a 19th season in 2022.
Roby has been a one-club man since making his debut against Widnes in 2004, playing an incredible 485 times for his hometown team thus far, scoring 110 tries.
The legendary number 9, who will turn 36 in November, continues to be one of the best in the game, emphasised recently as his try-scoring performance led the Saints to Challenge Cup glory once again at Wembley.
“At the start of the season, I thought James would play fewer minutes and be managed a lot more,” says Kevin.
“However, when you have arguably the best 9 that Super League has seen still rolling in the quality of performance that he has this year, you can’t not have him on the field.
“He still is the ‘go to’ player for Saints and he still is one of the most influential players in the league.
“He never lets his performance slip below a 7 or 8 in a game and that’s testament to how he handles himself and looks after himself.”
Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama will also be hoping Saturday’s Super League Grand Final ends in success as they bid farewell to their respective spells at St Helens.
Coote, 31, is off to Hull KR for 2022, while Naiqama, 32, will return to family in Australia this autumn.
Both were involved in back-to-back Grand Final wins in 2019 and 2020, and victory over Catalans Dragons would be the ideal farewell for the pair.
“Winning on Saturday would 100 percent be the perfect send-off for Lachlan,” claims Kevin.
“How things could have been different too – if Ben Barba hadn’t decided to go home we wouldn’t have seen Coote play in the Redvee.
“As it is, we’ve had a leader at full-back who has been so important in our recent success.
“He’s been outstanding for us throughout his time, we understand the reasons for him leaving – we just hope he’s the reason we’re Champions again this season.
“As for Naiqama, the understanding between he and Makinson has built brilliantly over the past few years and he will be missed.
“His leadership was really brought to the fore in the lockdown games – it emphasised how vocal he was, a trait easily missed when the Totally Wicked is buzzing.”
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