Well, well well – it’s humble pie time for me!
Sincere congratulations to everybody at St Helens for pulling off what I believed was the impossible.
And I don’t just mean in beating Wigan on Saturday evening. I’m talking about their progress over the last month as a whole. I didn’t think they could possibly make the Grand Final at all, let alone win it.
I have no intention of using Ben Flower’s sending off as a get-out clause for my comments about Saints last week.
This article originally appeared in this week’s edition of League Express newspaper. Click here to download the digital version to your computer, smartphone or tablet
All I will say about Flower is that I hope he receives as big a ban as possible. What he did to Lance Hohaia was absolutely horrific and I hope he has the book thrown at him.
All the incident did was lead to a pretty boring final. It didn’t cause the Saints forwards to play so well, or for several of Wigan’s big guns to be so disappointing.
But back to the champions! It took them a while to get going, especially in the first half, and even with a man advantage I still thought Wigan would win at half-time.
Saints’ lack of creativity looked like it would prevent them from winning, but showpiece matches often help players dig deep and find something out of the ordinary and, somehow, they managed to overcome all their problems and find a way to win the big prize. And I think they did it by simply wearing Wigan down!
I don’t think Wigan’s rhythm was particularly upset by their numerical disadvantage. It’s just that Saints got on top of them and got some quick play-the-balls in for the excellent James Roby to work with.
Matty Bowen, Blake Green and Matty Smith were all poor, which is partly down to them and partly down to the pressure that St Helens put them under. Sam Powell also looked a bit overawed.
Click here to download the latest issue of Rugby League World magazine to your computer, smartphone or tablet
I wrote last week that the Saints’ forwards wouldn’t get the better of Wigan’s, but, led by Sia Soliola and Luke Thompson, their pack was magnificent.
Mose Masoe led the way with that early hit on Dominic Crosby and even though he soon gave away a daft penalty, the tone had been set. Saints weren’t going to take a backward step.
Soliola was absolutely immense in everything he did, and his try was the turning point in the game.
Thompson had an absolute blinder. He’s somebody who, through no fault of his own, goes under the radar, but who has a huge future in the game. He was unbelievable on Saturday.
I’ve praised Alex Walmsley plenty over the last couple of years, but it was fantastic to see him complete the journey from the student game to Super League champion.
At dummy-half, Roby had a very good game and was central to most of what his team did. He wouldn’t have been my choice for the Harry Sunderland Trophy but the role he played was vital, especially with Wigan lacking Michael McIlorum.
Jordan Turner has played a big role in recent weeks in helping glue the side together and also in contributing to the hard yards, and he had another top game.
I wrote last week that St Helens couldn’t win the trophy with Mark Flanagan in the halves. Oh dear! How Mark will have enjoyed rubbing it in by tweeting me a picture of him holding the Super League trophy.
He won’t exactly be challenging Luke Walsh for the halfback’s role next season. But you have to have something going for you in order to step into such an unfamiliar role on the big stage and end up on the winning side.
Mr St Helens himself, Paul Wellens, had a great game and it was wonderful to see his reaction at the final hooter. His celebration encapsulated perfectly what big games are all about.
Wello is an absolute legend of the club and although he’s received some criticism over the years (probably some from me!), and although he lost the number-one jersey to Jonny Lomax, I though he played superbly when it really mattered.
Soliola’s try was nothing to do with creativity, but Tommy Makinson’s certainly was and it came from the fullback.
It was Andrew Johns who perfected the kick off the side of the boot and it was called the banana kick. Joey would have been proud of Wello’s version of the kick on Saturday and rightly so, as it was the moment that decided the season.
And he did far more than that with yet another typically assured performance at the back.
My man of the match was Makinson, and it was fitting that it was he who scored the winning try. He took his moment beautifully and it was a try fit to win such a game. But, like Wellens, he contributed far more than just that one moment.
He was outstanding from first to last, and with Saints having no players in the England squad, I think it was Makinson who sent the clearest message to Steve McNamara that he has made a mistake.
Saints’ win was largely down to their defence and an incredible will to win, and for that all 17 of their payers deserve all the praise in the world.
Maybe next time I’ll remember the words “Never write off the Saints” before I jump in with a prediction!
As for Wigan, I think it will take them all of the off-season to get over a defeat like that.
People will blame the red card. But that doesn’t explain why Smith and Bowen were so poor, and quite a few others too.
They just weren’t at the races and they deserved to get their pants pulled down.