Possibly Wigan were the last side to show this kind of dominance throughout the late 1980s and early ‘90s. But throughout most of that time Wigan were the only full-time club – Leeds following suit later on – and the club had enough money to sign the top players from other teams.
That isn’t to say Wigan’s success was undeserved or that it was easy for them; but for Saints to emulate that – even for just one season – in an era were all Super League clubs are full-time and in a season widely regarded as the closest ever Super League season is amazing.
Last season St Helens lost out in the semi-finals of both Super League and the Challenge Cup, and that has no doubt had an effect on the way they played this year. Only four games have been lost all season – one of those with a second-string side at Les Catalans – and that, in itself, is some achievement.
And then we have the individual honours: Paul Wellens’ Man of Steel award, Players’ Player of the Year award, Rugby League Writers’ Player of the year award and Harry Sunderland Trophy are the mark of a fantastic individual in a fantastic team. And that is without mention Sean Long’s Lance Todd Trophy, Daniel Anderson’s Coach of the Year award and James Graham’s Young Player of the Year award.
Could Saints continue their success past this season and go through a period of dominance like Wigan? The odds are stacked against them in that respect, and the last thing we want is for the game to become stale and repetitive. But I wouldn’t bet against them.
World Club Farce
We can all agree that St Helens are the best side in the country on the basis of this season, but are they the best side in the world? It looks now as though we won’t find out, as the annual World Club Challenge is in serious jeopardy.
NRL Premiers Brisbane Broncos claimed that many of their key players may well be left out of the line-up to face Saints in February, causing such concern that the whole WCC concept has been brought into question. If a second-string Broncos side took the field then the game would be meaningless.
Some people may argue that the game is meaningless anyway. Squads change over the winter, and the two teams that meet next year may be significantly different to the teams that won their respective championships. Look at the situation this year: World Champion Bradford Bulls could only manage a fourth-placed finish in Super League; while runners-up Wests Tigers could only scrape into eleventh.
The game could be played immediately after the Grand Finals, but that would detract from those and interfere with the more important internationals. And when Manly Sea Eagles are trying to sneak into the WCC match, then you know that things are in a bad way.
Perhaps it’s best just to dispense with the World Club Challenge. Saint fans might not agree, but that would prevent the fixture becoming a high profile rugby league embarrassment.
Tri-Nations Hots Up
If anything was guaranteed to set off the fireworks in the Gillette tri-Nations then it was Willie Mason’s comments as the Kiwis demonstrated their pre-match haka. Mason was spotted by the television cameras commenting, “What the f— is that? F— off!”
And after 24 minutes of play the response came when David Kidwell launched himself shoulder-first at the Aussie forward, sending him to the floor with a black eye. Add to that the fight at the other end of the field, and you have some idea as to how the second game might pan out.
It would be easy to criticise mason for what he did, but let’s not forget that the haka is not like a national anthem. While everyone sedately respects the anthems, the haka is used by the Kiwis to fire themselves up and intimidate their opponents.
But, in any case, it all points to a cracker of an encounter at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome on Saturday morning.
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