26th August: Saints take the first Super League title
Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 26th August
A 13-try master class saw St Helens become the inaugural Super League champions as they showed top-four hopefuls Warrington no mercy on this day in 1996, winning 66-14 amid a red-hot atmosphere at Knowsley Road.
The win ended a 21-year wait for the title although they had already won the Challenge Cup earlier in the season with a win over Bradford in a never-to-be-forgotten final.
Coached by Shaun McRae and captained by Bobbie Goulding, Saints laid down an early summer-era marker by beating Wigan 41-26 in round two at Easter.
And they remained in pole position until early July when they were beaten with surprising ease by Bradford at Odsal.
But the Bulls did them the ultimate favour by also beating Wigan a week later putting the title back in the hands of the Merseysiders.
Despite some scares – not least away to London when a late Apollo Perelini try kept them in the driving seat, Saints won six in a row to leave them needing a win over Warrington on Bank Holiday Monday to become champions for the first time in 21 years.
Warrington had so nearly beaten Saints earlier in the season, only to fall victim to a late try as they lost 25-24, and they weren’t looking to just spoil the Saints’ party as a win would see them secure a top-four finish and a place in the Premiership tournament which was to start a week later.
But from the moment Saints’ brilliant playmaker Tommy Martyn scored a first-minute try from a Joey Hayes kick, there was no chance of the Wire denying their rivals their Holy Grail.
And when Anthony Sullivan and Paul Newlove also scored early tries, the party on the Knowsley Road terraces was well under way.
Mark Forster pulled one back, which Ian Knott goaled, before Alan Hunte scored the first of hat-trick of tries in the 23rd minute. Newlove and Martyn completed their braces to leave the half-time score at 28-6.
The second half was a procession, with Derek McVey, Sullivan, Goulding, Joey Hayes and Adam Fogerty adding to two more tries from Hunte. Goulding finished the match with seven goals.
Richard Henare and Mateaki Mafi scored Warrington’s second-half tries, but they missed the craft of Iestyn Harris, who was in dispute with the club.
“What they have been able to do over the last few weeks is regroup, focus and compete,” said a jubilant McRae, in his first season as a head coach.
“When I first got here, everybody talked about how the St Helens backs could match anybody, but the forwards maybe lacked a little bit in the middle and a little bit on the left side of their chest.
“I think we’ve shown a lot of sides that that’s not the case.”
Goulding, later named in the Super League Dream Team along with team-mates Newlove, Sullivan, Keiron Cunningham and Apollo Perelini, added: “Shaun’s prepared us well all year.
“It’s been a great all-round performance by the coaching staff and the players too. The lads have been a credit to themselves, to their families and to the club.”
Bradford and London made up the top four with Warrington, Halifax, Sheffield and Oldham making up the middle quartet of teams.
Castleford, Leeds, Paris and relegated Workington occupied the last four spots.
Newlove was the season’s top tryscorer with 28, four ahead of Wigan’s Jason Robinson, while Andy Farrell, the Wigan and Great Britain captain, was a surprising winner of the Man of Steel.
Saints triumph again
Ten years to the day later, St Helens landed their tenth major trophy of the summer era as they beat Huddersfield at Twickenham to win the 2006 Challenge Cup.
Saints had swept aside Doncaster, Bradford, Catalans and Hull Kingston Rovers to reach the final, averaging a tally of 51 points per game.
The Giants hadn’t had it quite so easy, beating Halifax, York, Salford and Leeds. The win over Leeds, in particular, was a measure of how far the club had come under the astute coaching of Jon Sharp.
And, despite filling the outsiders’ role for the final, they took a sixth-minute lead as Martin Aspinwall slid into the corner.
But Saints hit back through Willie Talau and Sean Long for a 12-6 half-time lead, and they cut loose with five second-half tries from Maurie Fa’asavalu, Jamie Lyon, Jason Cayless and two from Jon Wilkin, who bravely played on with a broken nose.
“If someone had said to me before the game that I would have a winner’s medal and two tries, I would have taken the broken nose as a reasonable price to pay,” he said after the game.
But Long beat him to the Lance Todd Trophy by 15 votes to 11, collecting a record third such award.