Agia Eleni claimed history and the fourth consecutive Grand Final triumph | Saint Helen

HHistory comes in all shapes and sizes and, in a way, every side that lifts the Super League trophy writes its own piece. But on Saturday night at Old Trafford, there is something slightly more important on the line.

The world has changed immeasurably since the Super League season began in 2019. Britain is in its third prime minister and the planet has experienced a pandemic. Agia Eleni, however, remained steadfast. For more than 1,000 days, the Super League title has belonged to one club and one club only, and on Saturday they look to go where no club has gone in the modern era – and where only one club has gone since rugby began in 1895.

Only the great, all-powerful Wigan side of the 1980s and 1990s won four consecutive championships. Since the Super League was founded in 1996 and the sport switched to the summer, no one has achieved this feat. If St Helens beat Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final, they will become only the second club to do so and, in the eyes of many, remove any doubt that they are the best team to play the game.

“I think they can already place themselves in this group with the success they’ve had throughout the game,” says their coach, Kristian Woolf – who has guided them to the previous two titles. “But winning this weekend puts an exclamation mark for me and always takes away any doubt or any debate.” In this unprecedented four-year era of dominance, St Helens have won every domestic trophy on offer at least once.

St Helens Bennison; Makinson, Hurrell, Percival, Hopoate; Welsby, Lomax; Paasi, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Interchange McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wingfield, Lussick, Sironen.

Leeds Myler, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Handley; Austin, Leeming; Oledzki, O’Connor, Prior, Martin, Bentley, Tetevano. Interchange Dwyer, Smith, Thompson, Donaldson.

Referee L Moore.

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Quick guide

Possible lineups

projection

Saint Helen Bennison? Makinson, Hurrell, Percival, Hopoate; Welsby, Lomax; Paasi, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Exchange McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wingfield, Lussick, Sironen.

Leeds Myler, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Handley; Austin, Leeming; Oledzki, O’Connor, Prior, Martin, Bentley, Tetevano. Exchange Dwyer, Smith, Thompson, Donaldson.

Referee L Moore.

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They have played 101 league and playoff games since the start of 2019 and have won 82 of them. Long-serving stars such as Lachlan Coote and Théo Fages have been and gone. Their place has been taken by young players such as Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd and Jon Bennison. And the rule of St. Helens was unchanged. This isn’t so much a rugby team as a ruthless juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down.

A fixture at the club was their captain, James Robbie. Arguably the best player Super League has seen – and possibly the best player in St Helens history – Roby will become the first captain to win the Super League title four years in a row if he can lead his side to success against Rhinos, who finished fifth but defied the odds to reach Old Trafford this season under their manager Rohan Smith.

St Helens' Jack Welsby scores their teams third try during a Betfred Super League match at the Totally Wicked Stadium
St Helens’ Jack Welsby is confident of his side’s place in the pantheon: “If we win this game it will establish us as the best team in history in my opinion.” Photo: Will Matthews/PA

Is this side that Robbie proudly leads the greatest? “It’s a difficult question to answer,” says the 36-year-old. “Even I agree it’s hard to compare seasons and compare to that Wigan side. But the game has changed so much and it’s pretty hard to win two in a row. It’s not just four years now, it’s four years ago to lay the groundwork. But despite all the arguments, it is a fact that nobody has done it before in Super League. I certainly dare to dream that we can do it.”

Welsby, who scored the winning try in the 2020 Grand Final, is slightly more candid on the matter. “It’s the biggest game of the year and the biggest game for the Saints in their history,” he said. “If we win this game, it makes us the best team in history in my opinion. There are a lot of different factors, but for us in the group, four in a row, Challenge Cup there, a couple of League Leaders’ Shields, it’s just my personal opinion, but suffice it to say.”

There’s extra motivation for Wolff, who will leave the Saints after the final. He will return to Australia in 2023 to become an assistant at new NRL franchise the Dolphins before taking over from Wayne Bennett at the club in 2025.

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“It will be hard to say goodbye,” he admits. “The players are great to work with because of their consistency and hard work.

“But as a group of guys, the character they have, you can almost see why they’ve been so successful. I am so proud to have been a part of this journey.”

“We know it’s there, the story, everybody knows it,” says Roby. “It’s a carrot dangling there but we’ve got to put it in the box and forget about it for 80 minutes and get the job done.

“To be a part of such an amazing story, I couldn’t think of anything better. We’ve found a rhythm that works for us, and the right people are there to keep it going for years, long after I’m gone. Hopefully we can deliver once again this year.”

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