MARTYN SADLER reflects on a superb performance by St Helens and pays tribute to their coach Kristian Woolf.
Let’s not underestimate what St Helens have achieved in the last four years.
To win the Super League title for the fourth time in successive years has never been achieved by any other club and they have now won nine Grand Finals and eleven Super League titles in total.
They are clearly the club that every other club should be trying to learn from and emulate.
They won this game comfortably, with plenty in reserve, and they were without one of their greatest assets in Alex Walmsley.
Admittedly the Rhinos were without some key players – particularly Harry Newman and Aidan Sezer.
But would the result have been any different if they had been available?
As always, when players are missing, the ‘what ifs’ are not worth debating because we’ll never know the answer.
Coaches put out the best teams they can from the players they have available and they play against the team that is put in front of them.
But I do think that there should be a two-week gap between the semi-finals and the Grand Final to allow more promotion of the event and, in the modern era, to allow players who receive head-knocks to serve the eleven-day protocol before being able to play in the biggest game of the year. I felt particularly sorry for Sezer that he couldn’t take part in the game.
There had been controversy in the week, as St Helens managed to overturn the suspension of Morgan Knowles.
There were plenty of critics who questioned why they were able to do that. But they showed their determination to pursue every avenue to gain an advantage in this game and that was just one element of it. I don’t think it was by any means the underlying reason for their victory.
It was unfortunate, however, that it took some attention away from the more positive elements that should have been the focus of the build-up to the Grand Final.
Knowles was booed by the Leeds fans, inevitably, when he was introduced to the crowd but apart from that he was simply a cog in the formidable St Helens machine.
I had wondered whether he would be affected by the controversy about his playing in this game but it was hard to detect that it had any effect on him at all.
The crucial moment in the game was Konrad Hurrell’s try early in the second half, with Hurrell taking the hard road to the line through a posse of Leeds defenders and forcing his way over the line to touch down. He had almost scored in the first half when he was tackled just short by Ash Handley in the corner.
His try was so crucial because Leeds had threatened to come back into the game with their try just before half-time. And I can’t imagine that any other player could have scored that try in the way that he did against his old team.
Some St Helens supporters were doubtful about the wisdom of Konrad’s signing when it was announced but he has repaid the club handsomely for its faith in his ability to deliver on the big stage and now he will be part of Tonga’s squad for the World Cup.
I was particularly pleased to see Mark Percival playing a significant role for St Helens, given that England coach Shaun Wane is not blessed with too many options as he contemplates his centres for the World Cup. Woolf looks far more fortunate with his options for Tonga.
Woolf will be remembered forever at St Helens, just like some of their greats in the past, such as Murphy, Van Vollenhoven and so many others.
His achievements have been unprecedented. His three-year tenure has seen his side finish the season as Champions in each of those years. When you bear in mind that he had never been a head-coach in either the NRL or Super League, apart from a brief stint at Newcastle Knights in 2019 after the departure of Nathan Brown, when he was in charge for just two games before coming to the Totally Wicked Stadium.
We must give St Helens all the credit in the world for identifying his ability and appointing him to succeed Justin Holbrook.
Rarely can an appointment have been so fully justified.
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