Circumstances would not detract from Super League title defence, says Kristian Woolf

Because of the extended season, Saints have been able to hang onto the trophy they won at Old Trafford for an extra seven weeks but it goes on the line against arch rivals Wigan at Hull’s KCOM Stadium on Friday night.

Only St Helens and Leeds have ever won back-to-back Grand Finals and it is 20 years since Saints last achieved the feat.

“It’s an achievement in itself to go back-to-back with Grand Finals and to go back-to-back with titles would be extra special,” said captain James Roby.

“It’s not been done many times but we’ll be doing everything we can to achieve that.”

As with all matches in England since the resumption in August, the final will be played behind closed doors and, just like at Wembley for the Challenge Cup final, it will be a DIY trophy presentation.

But Woolf insists all that will not detract from either the determination of his side to succeed or the satisfaction that will come with the spoils.

“The players more than anyone deserve all the credit we can give them,” said Woolf, who succeeded fellow Australian Justin Holbrook at the start of the season.

“They’re the ones that have taken the risk every week of going back to work when others didn’t. They’ve shown tremendous sacrifice and discipline without crowds and with a lot of restrictions.

“The one thing I don’t think anyone could argue with is the fact the players have gone out and played just as good footy as they would with crowds.

“They’ve shown they can play with the same intensity and a win or loss means just as much to them.

“Even though it is going to lack a little bit of atmosphere and you’ve got to create your own energy, it’s something the players have become accustomed to.

“But the intensity of the game and the quality certainly hasn’t changed and that will be the same for this week.

“It’s a season that’s going to be remembered for so many things, mostly to do with Covid and the disruption that’s come with that.

“I’m not sure how we’ll be able to celebrate – or commiserate – but I’m sure we can figure something out.”

The game will mark the farewell appearance of prop forward James Graham and Roby says the players will have extra motivation to send him into retirement on a winning note.

Roby played with and against Graham from schoolboy to Super League level and says his former England team-mate will be a big miss.

“It’s been a real privilege and honour to have known him for most of my life and it’s been brilliant to get him back this year,” he said.

“What he brings not only on field but off it with his attitude and the way he carries himself is brilliant.

“It’s great for the young lads who had maybe only seen him play on television in Australia to get opportunity to work with him and see what it takes to play at the top of the game.”

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