St Helens all but secured their second successive league leaders’ shield with a 21-10 win at Warrington on Friday night.
It was a fine occasion in front of a packed crowd at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on a lovely summer’s evening, with a game of great intensity that went to the wire.
If you could package up what Super League should look like every week, it would be that.
The only negative for me was that it was held at a time when two other games were on – at Wakefield and Wigan – when headline games such as this should be stand alone, to maximise the attention on it, to improve broadcast numbers and to ensure the media has a sole focus on the night.
Celebrate this time, Saints
One of the most disappointing photos from last season was the lack of vigour and enthusiasm that St Helens celebrated winning the league leaders’ shield with.
It backfired when they finished the season otherwise empty handed following their semi-final loss to Warrington.
While winning the Grand Final is the pinnacle and makes you the champions, rugby league needs to stop talking down the league leaders’ shield and the achievement that finishing top of the pile should be.
Create a new trophy, make it prestigious, give it a better title – and enable great teams like this St Helens one to celebrate being the best over the course of the season.
There are marginal calls in every game that swing both ways. Officiating is often criticised, but they are under such scrutiny these days.
For me, while the forward pass for Mark Percival’s try should have been spotted by the touch judge, the poorest call of the evening came from Dec Patton.
At 6-6, Warrington were gifted field position on half way, with around 10 minutes to play, should have built up through the middle and set up for the drop goal.
Instead, Patton inexplicably kicked early in the tackle count for the corner, letting Saints off the hook.
They went up the other end, and after testing Jake Mamo with a couple of high kicks from deep, eventually forced the error that ultimately tipped the game in their favour.
Saints a cut above
Given their performance over the past two seasons, it’s almost looking like it would be a travesty if St Helens aren’t lifting the trophy at Old Trafford come the end of the year.
They and Warrington are a level above everybody else in the competition this season, yet Saints managed to see off the Wolves despite missing the captain and key man in James Roby.
Not only that, but to lose his understudy in Aaron Smith just three minutes in, and to still come away with the win, is a mark of how good this Saints team is.
Hooker is the key position in the modern game, and James Bentley stepped up, along with Theo Fages, to prove what a great team Justin Holbrook has put together.
Warrington will have been disappointed that Daryl Clark, himself one of the best number nines in the competition, couldn’t make more of a mark on the game, and that their England props Chris Hill and Mike Cooper were overrun by their opposite numbers Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson.
The treble is on for Saints – I wouldn’t bet against them.