2020 Season Review: St Helens

2020 Season Review: St Helens

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 St Helens came into the 2020 Super League season under new leadership. Australian Kristian Woolf had taken over from Justin Holbrook, who had moved back home to coach Gold Coast Titans.

Background

Woolf had the task to try and uphold the high standards Holbrook set in 2019, after Saints won the Super League after losing just three games, and winning the League Leaders Shield by a record 16 points.

The club had said goodbye to Adam Swift and Danny Richardson, who moved to Hull FC and Castleford Tigers respectively. Apart from that, the squad had largely stayed the same ahead of the new year.

Start of the Super League

They started the new season the same as they had ended the old one; with a match against Salford Red Devils.Two tries each for Alex Walmsley, Jack Welsby and Kevin Naiqama, as well as other efforts from Zeb Taia and Theo Fages earned a 48-8 victory.

However, it wasn’t all good news, as in the second half they lost Lachlan Coote to a knee injury. He joined James Roby and Tommy Makinson on the sidelines. Both were still recovering from off-season surgery.

In Round Two, they were brought right back down to earth with a 19-0 defeat against Warrington Wolves.To add insult to injury, they lost Walmlsey before the match with a calf injury, while Mark Percival was also forced off with a shoulder complaint.

Round Three saw them travel to in-form Hull FC, but Saints bounced back to inflict a first defeat of the season on the Black and Whites.

The return of Tommy Makinson proved crucial for them. Second half tries from  Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Thompson and Matty Costello overturned a half-time deficit. 

World Club Challenge

It was the perfect tonic for Saints going into the World Club Challenge against Sydney Roosters.They started well, a Thompson try putting them into the lead, but they couldn’t make it count, and the NRL premiers made them pay. Saints could only score one more through Walmsley, as they fell to a 20-12 defeat.

A week later, they faced Toronto Wolfpack in Warrington, and eased to a 32-0 victory. However, this result was wiped when the Wolfpack withdrew from the Super League.

Super League Struggles

The first week in March saw Huddersfield Giants come to the Totally Wicked Stadium. But a thoroughly frustrating night saw the Saints go down 12-10, in their first home defeat since 2018.

Another piece of unwanted history came a week later, as Saints lost back-to-back matches for the first time since 2018 as well. They lost 28-14 at Castleford. LMS and Matty Lees were also in the sin bin at separate periods.

James Graham returned to Saints during lockdown. Credit: RL Photos

That was the last game Saints played, as rugby league succumbed to coronavirus pandemic in March, with the UK then going into full lockdown.

One highlight to come during lockdown was the return of James Graham. He would replace Luke Thompson, who signed for Canterbury ahead of the NRL restart. 

Super League restart and return to form

Headingley was the destination for the Super League restart in August. Credit: RL Photos

Saints would not  return to action until August, when they faced Catalans Dragons at Headingley behind closed doors.

Two tries from Coote, and others from James Bentley, Taia, Makinson and Walmsley earning a 34-6 victory.

They then backed that up with a 48-0 victory over Leeds Rhinos. A hat-trick from Regan Grace, and other efforts from Graham, Walmsley, Makinson, Fages and Coote.

The champions returned home for the first time since defeat against Huddersfield, when they faced Castleford. Fages scored the only try in a low-scoring affair, with Saints winning 10-0.After that game, they also lost Makinson for five matches, after he was found guilty of Other Contrary Behaviour, following an accusation of inappropriate contact by Liam Watts.

A third location came for Saints at the end of August, as they faced Hull KR in Warrington. Two tries from Welsby, and others from Walmsley, Naiqama and Smith sealed a hard-fought victory.

Saints continued their hot streak since the restart, with a thumping 54-6 victory over Huddersfield at Headingley. Two tries apiece from Coote and Grace, and other efforts from Smith, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Costello, Peyroux and Walmsley earned the win.

They came head-to-head with Hull KR again, but this time it was much closer. Only a Fages drop-goal in extra-time got them over the line.

Challenge Cup disappointment

Despite their good form in the league, Saints would fall out of the Challenge Cup after a narrow defeat against Warrington at Salford. Lachlan Coote put the conversion wide that would have levelled the game.

They ended the month by putting Wigan’s youngsters to the sword. Welsby and Grace got two apiece, with Walmsley, Bentley and Morgan Knowles finishing the scoring.

Wakefield Trinity lay in wait next and they almost caught Saints off guard. They lead 12-10 at the break, but a good second half effort saw Saints come away with a 20-16 victory.

The pair met again a week later in Warrington. This time, there was no such worries. A Makinson hat-trick, two tries from Roby and other efforts from Walmsley, Grace, Naiqama and Lewis Dodd earned the Saints a 48-6 victory.

Saints were back at home a week later, facing a rotated Leeds side. A hat-trick from young centre Josh Simm, as well as other efforts from Taia, Fages, Naiqama and Smith got Saints a 40-8 victory.

Rotation and League Leaders Shield decider

Just three days later, Saints were back in action against Salford. As a result of their schedule, they put a young side out. Josh Eaves had put Saints in front, but they lost 12-10, their first Super League defeat in 10 matches.

That defeat brought Wigan back within touching distance of Saints, and the pair met at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Saints were without Walmsley, who was banned by the Match Review Panel.Saints took the lead through Coote, but fell to a second half fightback from Wigan and as a a result, lost top spot.

With a second wave of coronavirus starting to take hold of the country, it was decided to halt the season and start the playoffs.

Post-season

As a result of finishing second, Saints were one game from the Grand Final, and they swept Catalans aside for the second time.A hat-trick from Naiqama, two from Coote and others from Jonny Lomax, Bentley and Grace won the game 48-2.

To the Grand Final, and Saints would face Wigan once again.Level at 4-4 with no time left, Makinson went for a drop goal from 40m out, which hit the post and the deflection fell to Welsby, who scored under the posts.

It gave Saints back-to-back titles in the most extraordinary of circumstances in a season nobody will forget.

Can they keep this up in 2021?

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About Post Author

Steven Hughes

I am a freelance journalist based in Liverpool, specialising in football, darts and rugby league
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