St Helens and the six best defensive starts in Super League history

Ben Olawumi
Matt Whitley St Helens Alamy

Despite defeat on Friday evening, St Helens created Super League history after completing one of the best defensive starts to a season in the competition’s history.

The Saints have stood out for their defensive exploits in the first three games of the new Super League campaign, conceding just four points on the opening night against London Broncos before heading to Huddersfield Giants and nilling Ian Watson’s side.

Paul Wellens’ men then conceded only four points at home to Leigh Leopards last week and while they were beaten at home to Salford Red Devils on Friday night, the 24 points they conceded meant the class of 2024 are now in the top five best-performing defensive starts to the summer era.

There have been some incredible Super League teams over the years, including those donning the Saints shirts themselves. Below, we take a look at the six-best, with Wellens’ side entering the list after tonight’s action.

=5. Wigan Warriors – 32 (2010)

Michael Maguire’s first season in charge as a head coach of any club came with Wigan in 2010, and his tenure at the helm began with two routine victories at home against Crusaders and Hull KR, conceding just six points against each of those.

In Round 4, they nilled Catalans at the then-known JJB Stadium too, and would have been much higher than sixth on this list had it not been for the absolute thriller which they were involved in away at Warrington Wolves the week prior.

The Cherry and Whites – who would go on to win the Grand Final against bitter rivals Saints having lifted the League Leaders’ Shield – trailed 16-4 at the break against the Wire, coming back to win 22-20. 32 points conceded across their opening four, 62.5% of those in Round 3!

Round 1: 38-6 v Crusaders (H)

Round 2: 32-6 v Hull KR (H)

Round 3: 22-20 v Warrington Wolves (A)

Round 4: 58-0 v Catalans Dragons (H)

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-5. St Helens – 32 (2024)

The Saints’ class of 2024 are the outlier on this list, given how they are the only one inside the top five to not win all four of their opening games.

Going into Friday’s clash with Salford on home soil, they’d had just eight points put on them overall, four apiece from London and Leigh respectively. The Red Devils had a bit more success, scoring 24 and ultimately winning the game, but Wellens’ side’s tally against still only stands at 32. What can Saints achieve in 2024? We’ll have to wait and see.

Round 1: 40-4 v London Broncos (H)

Round 2: 28-0 v Huddersfield Giants (A)

Round 3: 12-4 v Leigh Leopards (H)

Round 4: 20-24 v Salford Red Devils (H)

4. Wigan Warriors – 30 (2001)

Nine years earlier, the Warriors went two better, conceding just 30 points across their opening four Super League games in the 2001 campaign.

Again under a new head coach in Stuart Raper, Wigan were comfortable victors in the first three, winning each by 16+ points and conceding just 20 between games against Warrington, Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos. In Round 4, they beat Halifax 20-10 at The Shay, making it just 30 points conceded in four.

It’s worth noting that before the Super League season began in 2001, Raper had seen his side knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Saints. The Cherry and Whites would end the year in 2nd, beaten Grand Finalists for a second year running when Bradford Bulls got the better of them at Old Trafford.

Round 1: 34-6 v Warrington Wolves (H)

Round 2: 24-8 v Castleford Tigers (A)

Round 3: 42-6 v Leeds Rhinos (H)

Round 4: 20-10 v Halifax (A)

3. Bradford Bulls – 28 (2000)

The aforementioned Bulls extracted their revenge in that 2001 Grand Final having seen their season ended by Wigan in the ‘Final Eliminator’ the year prior, denied a shot at Old Trafford glory by the Warriors having ended 2000 in 3rd place on the Super League ladder.

Months prior, Bradford however started 2000 on the front foot and leaked only 28 points across their opening four league games of the campaign, an average of just seven. Heavily contributing to that were the four and two they conceded in Rounds 2 & 3 respectively against Warrington & Huddersfield-Sheffield, who we now know as the Giants.

Either side of those, Brian Noble’s Bulls beat St Helens 32-10 and Castleford 44-12. With a now-uncommon schedule in 2000, by the time March had ended, Bradford had booked their spot in the Challenge Cup final which they’d go on to win – in April – against Leeds at Murrayfield up in Edinburgh.

Round 1: 32-10 v St Helens (A)

Round 2: 58-4 v Warrington Wolves (H)

Round 3: 60-2 v Huddersfield-Sheffield (A)

Round 4: 44-12 v Castleford Tigers (H)

FRIDAY REACTION: Leigh Leopards owner Derek Beaumont says he ‘won’t be silenced’ following Leeds Rhinos defeat

2. St Helens – 26 (2022)

More recently, as they completed their ‘four-peat’ of Grand Final victories, we saw Saints open the 2022 campaign with victories against Catalans, Hull FC, Wakefield Trinity & Hull KR.

In each of those games, Kristian Woolf’s men restricted their opponents to a single digit on the scoreboard, conceding eight in Rounds 1 & 4 against Catalans & KR respectively, sandwiching the six against Hull in Round 2 and four against Wakefield in Round 3.

In what would be Woolf’s final season at the helm, the Red V lifted the League Leaders’ Shield before beating Leeds at Old Trafford, creating unprecedented history.

Round 1: 28-8 v Catalans Dragons (H)

Round 2: 38-6 v Hull FC (A)

Round 3: 20-4 v Wakefield Trinity (H)

Round 4: 42-8 v Hull KR (A)

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1. St Helens – 22 (2021)

The year prior, Woolf’s side’s defensive efforts were even more impressive early on, conceding only 22 points across their opening four Super League games, four fewer than in 2022.

2021 began with three games played behind closed doors at ‘neutral’ venues due to the COVID-19 Pandemic against Salford, KR and Wakefield respectively. But, perhaps in their favour, the Totally Wicked Stadium was the venue chosen to host all of the Super League action in the two latter of those, Rounds 2 & 3 both in familiar territory.

A nilling of KR in Round 2 contributed heavily to the defensive record, with victory against Leeds in the Challenge Cup in-between the early opening rounds of the league season. Woolf’s men would end the campaign 2nd on the ladder, behind Catalans, but would go on to beat the French outfit at Old Trafford in the Grand Final.

Round 1: 29-6 v Salford Red Devils (N – Headingley)

Round 2: 25-0 v Hull KR (N – Totally Wicked Stadium)

Round 3: 34-6 v Wakefield Trinity (N – Totally Wicked Stadium)

Round 4: 18-10 v Huddersfield Giants (A)

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