St Helens will charge into the business end of 2006 fully confident of landing a league and cup double following a 42-12 demolition of Huddersfield Giants in the Powergen Cup final at Twickenham earlier this afternoon.
The Saints were forced to recover from a nervous start to the game – their first possession seeing Leon Pryce gift the ball back to the Giants; who got off to the better start with all the pressure and a try inside five minutes.
But seven tries from the winners made sure that the famous old trophy would be heading back to Knowsley Road; by the time Robbie Paul touched down for Huddersfield's second try with just ten minutes left on the clock the results was no longer in doubt.
Daniel Anderson was winning his first trophy at the helm of St Helens – with the promise of more before season's end – while, by contrast, Sean Long picked up the Lance Todd trophy for man of the match for a record third time.
This was an encounter where the kicking game had a huge impact; not one goal missed and five tries coming from the back of kicks toward the in goal area – Sean Long being the most prolific exponent.
It was the Giants who made the brighter opening to the final, early pressure forcing St Helens to a pair of goal-line drop outs.
But Saints were not second best for long and Aspinwall was quickly called back into action having to take hold of a towering Long kick toward the left of field; St Helens coming back into the game.
And they grabbed the crucial equaliser on the twenty minutes mark when a Paul Sculthorpe grubber bounced up into the waiting arms of Willie Talau, Jamie Lyon – who has scored in very round of the cup the St Helens have played in – adding the two.
Ade Gardner made a searing break down the right wing to try and edge his side in front for the first time soon after, but was pushed into touch with an excellent tackle from Malcolm Reilly.
St Helens took control of the match with two tries either side of the half time interval; first Lyon sending a deft flick inside to Gardner, who in turn directed a smart ball towards Long, the scrum half sprinting over the line.
John Wilkin – who had been on and off the field with a broken nose – was the scorer of the second of those scores; Maurie F'asavalu's break forcing Chris Nero to pull down James Roby, with Paul Wellens from dummy half sending Wilkin in.
Saints' attack was relentless and another break came down the right channel, but Gardner's pass inside fell into the arms of Nero.
But a try on fifty minutes effectively ended the match as a contest; Roby's kick into the in goal area allowing Fa'asavalu to touch down, Lyon converting to open up a 24-6 advantage.
Sean Long showed his class with a try near to the hour mark, making a break and, on the move, sending a beautifully weighted kick into the corner for Lyon to pounce on with the centre adding the conversion.
Wilkin grabbed a second try in what was an imperious performance after backing up a superb break from Kieron Cunningham – who showed why Brian Noble wants to keep him in the great Britain squad – Lyon again kicking the extras.
Huddersfield's second try finally came on seventy minutes when a long Drew kick into the in goal area was latched onto by Robbie Paul, De Vere ensuring his personal 100% goal kicking record.
But the Saints wrapped up the scoring with seven minutes left on the clock; yet another Long kick allowing Jason Cayless to touch down beneath the posts, Lyon adding his eighth goal of the game.
So St Helens are the Challenge Cup champions of 2006. The competition that started in January with teams that many fans have never heard of has come to an end for another year – personally I can't wait till next January!