history comes in all shapes and sizes, and somehow, every aspect lifts Premier League The cup writes their chapter. But on Saturday evening at Old Trafford, something more important is at stake.
The world has changed immeasurably since the start of the 2019 Premier League season. Britain holds its third Prime Minister position and the planet has experienced a pandemic. St. HelensHowever, it has remained constant. For more than 1,000 days, the Premier League title belonged to one and only one club, and on Saturday they tried to go where no team has gone in the modern era – and where only one has gone since I started Rugby League in 1895.
Only the Wigan team that triumphed in the ’80s and ’90s won four consecutive league titles. Since the Super League was founded in 1996 and the sport switched to summertime, no one has achieved this feat. Should St Helens beat Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final, they would become the second club to do so and, in the eyes of many, remove any doubt as to whether they are the greatest team to play the game.
“I think they could really be put in that category with the success they’ve had,” says their coach Christian Wolff – who has led them to the past two titles. “But winning this weekend puts an exclamation point on him a bit and removes any doubt or any discussion.”
In its unprecedented four-year era of dominance, St. Helens has won all the local awards on offer at least once. They have played 101 league and elimination matches since the start of 2019 and won 82 of them.
Long-serving stars like Lachlan Coote and Théo Fages are gone and gone. Young players such as Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd and John Benison have taken their place. Saint Helen’s dominance was not affected. This isn’t a team so much as a ruthless juggernaut that shows no sign of slowing down.
One of the club’s highlights was James Robbie, the captain. Arguably the greatest player the Premier League has seen – and perhaps the best player in St Helen’s history – Robbie would become the first captain to lift the title four years in a row if he could steer his team to success against the rhino, who finished fifth. But they have defied the odds to reach Old Trafford this season under coach Rohan Smith.
Is this side that Robbie proudly tops with the greatest? “It’s a hard question to answer,” says the 36-year-old. “Until I agree, it’s hard to compare eras and compare with Wigan. But the game has changed a lot and it’s hard to win twice in a row.
“It’s not just four years now, it’s the previous four years to lay the foundations. But with all the arguments, it’s a fact that no one has ever done in the Super League before. I certainly dare to dream that we can do it.”
Welsby, from Score the winning attempt in the 2020 Grand Final, more frank on this issue. “It’s the biggest game of the year and the biggest Halloween game in its history,” he said. “If we win it makes us the best team in history in my opinion. There are a lot of different factors, but, four in a row, the Challenge Cup there, two league leaders’ shields – it’s just a personal opinion, but it would be enough to say that.”
There’s additional motivation for Wolf as well, who will leave the Saints after the final. He is set to return to Australia in 2023 to become an assistant at new NRL franchise The Dolphins, before taking the position from Wayne Bennett at the club in 2025.
“It would be hard to say goodbye,” he admits. “The players are great to work with because of their consistency and the hard work they put in.
“But as a group of guys, the character that they have, you can almost see why they are so successful. I was so proud to be a part of this journey.”
“We know history is there, and everyone knows it,” says Robbie. “It’s a carrot hanging out there but we have to put it in the box and forget about it for 80 minutes and finish the job.
“To be a part of such an amazing part of history, I couldn’t think of anything better. We’ve found a rhythm that suits us and there are the right people there to continue that for years, long after I’m gone. Hopefully we can deliver again this year.”