Betfred Super League Season Review: St Helens

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This was always going to be a big season for the Saints, after the departure of Super League Man of Steel Ben Barba, and the replacement was always going to be key.

They opted for a Scottish international, and NRL winning fullback in Lachlan Coote, Barba’s arrival at the Cowboys allowed Coote to sign for the Saints, in what turned out to be a direct swap.

That wasn’t the only NRL talent to come in either. Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama signed from Wests Tigers and another NRL winner, this time in forward Joseph Paulo, who signed from Cronulla Sharks.

As well as their arrivals, Saints also made the purchase of Joe Batchelor, who had impressed for York City Knights as they claimed promotion from League One.

Before the start of the season, there was a big change for Saints in the halves as Danny Richardson lost his place in the side, despite being given the number seven shirt in pre season. He was replaced by Theo Fages, who ended up keeping his place for most of the season.

A lot was made of Saints replacing their biggest attacking threat, but in Coote, they arguably had a better all round fullback than Barba, and someone who brought out the attacking threat in others.

Naiqama proved to add another attacking threat to the centres, while Regan Grace had his best season to date, with 19 tries.

It is also worth noting that Saints did not have it all their own way, they lost in the South if France against Catalans Dragons and also lost twice against London Broncos, though the squad was heavily rotated.

These defeats were the only defeats Saints had all year, as they ended up wrapping up the League Leaders Shield by a record breaking 16 points.

But what they really wanted in those parts, was a major trophy to go with the League Leaders Shield. They nearly got it in August as they reached a first Challenge Cup Final since 2008, when they last won the competition.

However, they saved probably their worst performance that August day at Wembley. They played Warrington Wolves, a side they had already recorded three wins against so far that season, but they never really got going in an 18-4 defeat in the capital.

A lot of fans would have feared the worst after this, given what happened in 2018. After a harrowing defeat in the Challenge Cup semi finals, their season never fully recovered and ended up petering out, when at one stage they looked odds on to complete the treble.

But, there was no such collapse this time, and the Red Vee arguably reached new heights. Their 40-10 win over Wigan Warriors in the Qualifying Final sent out a real statement that Saints were keen to avenge the mistakes of last season.

Their final match was at Old Trafford, a ground they had not played at since 2014. They would be playing Salford Red Devils, who had defied the odds to make their first Super League Grand Final.

It could have been seen as a banana skin, facing a side with nothing to lose, but Saints rose to the occasion, and claimed a comfortable 23-6 win over the Red Devils, to send departing Head Coach Justin Holbrook out on a high.

Saints will now head into a new era in 2020, with Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf now stepping forward for his first permanent position in club rugby.

He had been the interim Head Coach for NRL side Newcastle Knights for a short period, after another former Saints Head Coach Nathan Brown resigned from his position.

Woolf has had a turbulent time of late, he has been in the middle of a power struggle between the Tongan players and the board. The board wanted to sack him, but the players threatened to boycott the upcoming internationals.

He was sacked and then replaced with Frank Endacott, a man who had not been in coaching since leaving Widnes Vikings after suffering relegation with the club in 2004.

But after an intervention from the Tongan Prime Minister, the board was overthrown and Woolf was reinstated.

As a result, he will link up with his new team in November, and it will be interesting to see how Saints will look in 2020.

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