Super League Is Witnessing Something Truly Special With This St Helens Side

In pursuit of a fourth straight title, are St Helens the greatest Super League side of all-time?
11:05, 17 Mar 2022

Little more than a month into the new season and already champions St Helens look untouchable in their pursuit of a fourth straight Super League title. 

Only this St Helens side and the iconic Leeds of Sinfield-Peacock-Burrow-McGuire have ever completed a ‘threepeat’. But this Saints vintage looks peerless. Only 28 points conceded in their first five games and a vibrant, effervescent offensive armoury that has gone hitherto unchecked. 

So are we watching the greatest Super League side of all time? 

For this proud Rhinos fan that is a tough question to ask let alone consider to be true. It is something I’ve been going over in my head this week after a conversation with England winger Ryan Hall, who won six Grand Finals in that legendary Leeds team. 

For Hall, that unique band of brothers who won five titles in six years, four of them against Saints, may well now be watching their achievements being eclipsed.

“There are only two teams to win three in a row, so us and these Saints are in that elite category of champions,” he said. 

Yet it is traditionally so difficult, indeed dangerous, futile perhaps to compare across generations. Who can say if Pele stood out above Ronaldo or Messi given they played in different eras, with the game having evolved so much in between? Granted we are only talking a few years in this instance, but every sport evolves. 

I spoke to Jon Wilkin, Saints’ passionate former second row who, having won the treble in 2006, went on a miserable run in those Old Trafford defeats to Leeds in 2007,8,9 and 11. He also played in defeat to Wigan in 2010, completing an unwanted run of five Grand Final losses on the bounce.  

Having felt the pain of the Rhinos’ ruthlessness on the big stage first-hand and gone on to skipper Saints in the years preceding their own current run of dominance, Wilkin is perfectly placed to judge. And he doesn’t hold back on just how good this St Helens rugby league team is. 

“This Saints team at the minute have turned into probably one of the most competent and tidy defensive teams that we have ever seen in the history of Super League,” he tells me.

“That is one of the key differences (to the Leeds of 10-15 years ago).

“The consistency in performance week on week from this St Helens side, I think statistically if you look at points for and against and win percentage – the key metrics that define whether you are successful or not – this Saints side is proving that over the course of time they will be seen as the greatest side in Super League history. Because of their defensive robustness, the way they defend and then the ability to score points.”

Wilkin is Saints through and through but has always spoken with an eloquence and depth of understanding of the sport that has been his life. When he talks, I tend to listen.

“For Leeds and that great Leeds team, I thought they were probably defined by their ability to be written off and then win big games when it mattered and ultimately that’s hugely important,” he adds.  

And he’s not wrong. That Leeds side was littered with legends. The brilliance of Rob Burrow, guile of Danny McGuire, masterful captaincy of Kevin Sinfield, and passionate leadership of Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. Leeds were unstoppable when it mattered – in knockout rugby on the biggest stage. They developed an extraordinary winning mindset that allowed the team to fall short in the regular season and still triumph against the odds. And they knew they were going to win those finals before stepping out onto the pitch. 

Rob Burrow
Rob Burrow

But for Wilkin, that makes this St Helens side the best ever. Because their dominance is from start to finish of a season, not just on the big day.

“If Saints can dominate the weekly rounds and then also win the big games, that is why I see this Saints side going down in history as one of the greatest sporting teams in this country, and one of the greatest sporting teams in Super League history,” he adds.

“For me, their domination of the competition we might well see for a number of years, presuming the next coaching appointment after Kristian Woolf is good.

“So Leeds were an incredible team and achieved so much, but were very different to this Saints team who are revolutionising how teams approach winning rugby league matches in this country. And I think they would be very successful in the NRL at the minute too.”

So we are already in the audience for the greatest rugby league show in history when this current St Helens side is in town. I don’t want to agree with Wilkin, I really don’t. 

Alex Walmsley
Alex Walmsley

That Leeds team had icons, legends, superstars. Saints certainly have their own in James Roby, Tommy Makinson, Alex Walmsley and have the future of the sport in Lewis Dodd and Jack Welsby. Leeds developed an incredible knack of walking into the Colosseum knowing they were walking out victorious 80 minutes later.

But were they a better team over the season than what we are watching now? It’s hard to make an argument that they were. So I guess the question is how do you define a champion? What constitutes greatness? 

Because what we are watching right now is truly special.

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