St Helens began life as a rugby union club when they were formed in 1873, and played their first ever match in January 1874 against Liverpool Royal Infirmary. The club moved from their City Ground home, which they shared with St Helens Recs, and moved to their current Knowsley Road home in 1890. In 1895, Saints were one of 22 clubs to resign from the Rugby Football Union, and form the Northern Union, defeating Rochdale 8-3 at Knowsley Road in their first game of rugby league. The club played another part in early rugby league history, contesting the first ever Challenge Cup Final in 1897, going down 10-3 to Batley at Headingley. In the early years of league competition however, Saints failed to make much of an impression, being relegated twice in the three seasons after the combination of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues in 1902/03. After the First World War, Saints had their first period of success, winning their first trophies in the late 1920s, with the Lancashire Cup in 1927, the Lancashire League in 1930 and 1932, before at last winning their first national title in 1932. The Challenge Cup continued to elude them however, losing again in the Final to Widnes at Wembley in 1930.
War intervened again, before the arrival of Jim Sullivan as head coach in 1952 signalled the start two glorious decades of unmatched success for Saints. Their first Challenge Cup was clinched at last in 1956, defeating Halifax 13-2 at Wembley, but that was just one of many successes in Sullivan’s reign, guiding the club to a further four Lancashire League titles, two Lancashire Cups and a second Challenge Cup in 1961 before his departure. Saints were also responsible for inflicting the heaviest ever defeat on a touring Australia team, with a 44-2 win in 1956. Sullivan was succeeded by former Saints skipper Alan Prescott in 1961, and the honours continued to follow in one of the most talented Saints’ sides in history. The League and Challenge Cup double was achieved in 1966, as well as seven Lancashire League titles, and six Lancashire Cups during the 1960s. Two more Challenge Cups followed in the 1970s, with wins over Leeds and Widnes, but another final defeat, again to Leeds in 1978, and defeat to Hull KR in the Floodlit Cup Final in 1977. The renamed Premiership was also won two years in a row in 1976 and 1977.
In the 1980s however, success was few and far between. Under 60s playing legend Alex Murphy, Saints earned a reputation in this era as a talented side that always seemed to fall at the last hurdle. The Premiership and Lancashire Cup wins in 1985 were as good as it got, and the decade ended with three final defeats in three seasons, first with a narrow shock defeat to Halifax in 1987, followed by a 27-0 thumping from Wigan two years later, with defeat to Widnes in the Premiership Final in between. The dramatic Regal Trophy win in 1988 provided some comfort, with Neil Holding’s drop goal sealing a 15-14 win over Leeds at Central Park. In the early 90s, Saints lost the 1992 Premiership Final to arch rivals Wigan, but gained revenge with a 17-0 win in the Charity Shield at the start of the following season, before defeating Wigan again in the 1993 Premiership Final, Saints’ final trophy before the switch to summer rugby.
That switch signalled another prolonged period of success at Knowsley Road. Shaun McRae was appointed in 1996, winning the League and Challenge Cup double in his first season, and retaining the Challenge Cup in 1997, both Cup wins coming against Bradford Bulls. Ellery Hanley took over and oversaw a first Grand Final win for Saints, again over the Bulls at Old Trafford in 1999, before the arrival of Ian Millward and four dominant years. Millward’s side won every honour in the game, winning the Super League Grand Final twice again, with wins over Wigan in 2000, and Bradford again in 2002, thanks to Sean Long’s famous late drop goal. The same two sides were defeated again as Saints won two Challenge Cups in 2001 and 2004, as well as winning the World Club Challenge for the first time in 2001, where Saints memorably came back from 18-6 down early in the second half to triumph 20-18 over NRL Champions, Brisbane Broncos.
Daniel Anderson was appointed head coach following Millward’s controversial sacking in May 2005, but endured a disappointing start, where Saints won the League Leader’s Shield, but became the first table toppers of the Super League era not to reach the Grand Final. From there, Anderson’s Saints never looked back, winning the lot in 2006. The Challenge Cup Final win over Huddersfield at Twickenham also saw Sean Long become the first player ever to win three Lance Todd Trophies, following his previous two in Saints’ 2001 and 2004 wins. The League Leader’s Shield was also clinched, and followed up with a 26-4 win over Hull FC in the Grand Final. Saints’ were also laden with individual honours, as the team won BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year, Anderson picked up the BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year award, and Paul Wellens the Man of Steel award. 2007 saw further success, with another win over Brisbane in the World Club Challenge, another League Leader’s Shield, and victory over Catalans Dragons in the first ever Challenge Cup Final to be played at the new Wembley Stadium. A successful season ended in heartbreak however, as Saints were crushed 33-6 by Leeds in the Grand Final. The following season followed a similar story, as Saints won a third successive Challenge Cup, defeating Hull FC this time, and a fourth consecutive League Leader’s Shield, but again losing out to Leeds in the Grand Final, in Anderson’s final game in charge.
Mick Potter took over for the 2009 season, but again lost out to Leeds in the Grand Final. 2010 will be the final season at Knowsley Road, the club’s home for 120 years.