4-Midable – History Built On Team Effort 🏆🏆🏆🏆
Last Saturday, St. Helens RLFC made history by becoming the 1st side to win 4 Super League titles in a row. An amazing achievement built on incredible teamwork.
Seldom does an individual achieve anything alone. That mantra oozes through St. Helens rugby club. Never before had any side won four consecutive Super League Grand Finals. The closest was three, achieved both by Leeds Rhinos (‘07-’09) and by the current Saints team as part of what has now been extended into a fourth year.
Winning any sporting championship is a massive achievement. Even more so when it’s at professional level, like the top division of rugby league in England. Winning the next year is tougher, but many good teams do exactly that, confirming their champion credentials. A third is elusive. Only the truly great get that far. But four? Almost unheard of.
Bear in mind that, unlike soccer, rugby league is a sport of limited budgets. Yes, there have been nine-in-a-rows and beyond in association football. However, those are almost always built upon a level of spending which dwarfs the funding available to other clubs at the time. Of course, keeping the hunger to win going for almost a decade is incredible. It would be folly to suggest far bigger budgets don’t give a significant headstart, though.
Due to the success of the last three years, Saints’ wage bill needed some trimming. Winning brings players better pay which in turn means the squad costs more and in a salary capped sport, ways to meet the imposed limits have to be found. During the previous close season, St. Helens lost a number of key players because of this system. I myself think it’s a good idea. It helps breed healthy competition and reduces the chances of a club dominating. Nevertheless, the fact was that important first teamers like Lachlan Coote and Théo Fages had to be released. Kevin Naiqama, last year’s Harry Sunderland trophy winner (man of the match in the Grand Final), left too.
Three players from a team of 13 equal almost 25% of the squad. When you consider that these three were also backs, basically one half of two divisions in a rugby team, forwards being the other, you’re talking almost 50%. Saints remained favourites for the crown, but there were few who didn’t consider them more vulnerable.
That was before an injury crisis which lasted the full season and affected predominantly, you’ve guessed it, the backs! Will Hopoate, brought in to offset the loss of Kevin Naiqama, missed much of the year. Lewis Dodd, Théo Fages’ replacement, and high-scoring winger Regan Grace were both injured for pretty much the entire season. So too was Mark Percival who should have partnered Hopoate in the two centre positions. In that pivotal area, the losses could be considered almost 100% for a lot of fixtures.
Were Saints going to roll over and accept it wasn’t to be their year? Never. Available players upped their work rate, some slotted into positions they weren’t accustomed to but embraced them with even more effort. The team suffered a disappointing Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to arch-rivals, Wigan, but that only made them even more determined. Focused on relying on each other to do what was required, inch-by-inch they battled on. Younger players took on leadership roles, more experienced stars knuckled down and worked like it was their first season playing at professional grade. Adversity seemed only to make them stronger.
After a gruelling season St. Helens, whilst picking up the League Leaders Shield along the way, found themselves back at Old Trafford for the end-of-year finale. One final push for immortality. The team facing them? The same Leeds Rhinos with whom they shared the three-in-a-row record. Surely no club would be more determined to stop them and prevent the loss of their own place in the record books? It wasn’t enough. Saints were stronger, faster and more willing to fight for what this current squad must now consider their benchmark, the Super League title. The game finished 24-12, Saints champions again.
“4-Midable” as the club’s social media account announced at the final whistle. A magnificent display of what can be achieved when a group of people are committed to each other. Those who were present can say they truly witnessed history built on team effort.