Super League Grand Final: St Helens joy after 'quintet of misery'

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
James Roby, Nathan Brown and Paul Wellens hold the Super League trophy
James Roby, Nathan Brown and Paul Wellens hold the Super League trophy - Saints fifth summer era win

St Helens' James Roby and Paul Wellens could have been forgiven for joining the queue of Wigan players trudging up to be handed their losers' medals after Saturday's Super League Grand Final.

After all, for five years running it was an unhappy ritual for the Saints pair.

Leeds Rhinos conquered them four times between 2007 and 2011, while 2010's defeat by fierce rivals Wigan made up the quintet of misery under the Old Trafford lights.

The class of 2014 ended that streak with a dogged display in a fiery derby, prevailing 14-6 against the Warriors despite losing Lance Hohaia inside two minutes after Warriors prop Ben Flower landed two punches on the half-back.

"It was amazing," Roby told BBC Sport. "The moment when the whistle went and we knew we'd won, it was so much about joy and relief.

Sixth time's a charm for Saints
2007: Loss v Leeds 33-62008: Loss v Leeds 24-16
2009: Loss v Leeds 18-102010: Loss v Wigan 22-10
2011: Loss v Leeds 32-162014: Win v Wigan 14-6

"We've been here five times on the run and lost, and then after that the last two years we've worked really hard but just fell short before the final hurdle and not got here.

"All that hard work, you could say, has been building since 2006 when we won the last one. I think we deserve it to be honest, it was a great effort by all the lads."

In 2006, when Saints last triumphed in British rugby league's showpiece event, they were convincingly the finest team in the northern hemisphere, winning both Super League and the Challenge Cup.

Roby and Wellens, outstanding competitors themselves, were part of a side that included lynchpin Jamie Lyon, a contender for the greatest import of the summer era, two-time Man of Steel winner Paul Sculthorpe, mercurial pivot Sean Long and the heartbeat of the side, Keiron Cunningham.

This season's line-up may not have always compared with the 2006 vintage of Daniel Anderson's men, but they certainly have shown courage, heart and togetherness. All of which was required in abundance.

James Roby
Roby won the Harry Sunderland Trophy - the man of the match award - for his performance

Injuries left Nathan Brown's side without three first-choice playmakers in Luke Walsh, Jonny Lomax and Jon Wilkin, but back-rower Mark Flanagan, centre Jordan Turner and full-back Wellens have all taken on the responsibility as makeshift cover.

Prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook was drafted into the centres during the final, while Roby - for so long the patient understudy to club legend Cunningham - has routinely done 80-minute stints at dummy half.

Tommy Makinson's tries from the wing were also vital, with his crucial score in the final taking him to 29 for the season.

"I've been fortunate to play here and win before, but to lead this group of players in particular - to watch boys become men over the last 12 months, to face challenges a lot of teams don't face, to come here and put a gutsy performance in against a wonderful team - it was the proudest moment of my career," Wellens told BBC Radio Merseyside.

Success is a crowning achievement for head coach Brown, who returns to his native Australia following the triumph.

The former St George-Illawarra hooker, whose previous coaching best was leading Huddersfield to a Challenge Cup final in 2009, steered Saints to a League Leaders' Shield and Super League double in his last season in charge at Langtree Park.

Brown's legacy? A real hope of starting a new dynasty of Saints success.

Flower sent off for punch as Saints win

"Nathan deserves a huge amount of credit," Wellens added.

"When we got beaten by Hull a few months back I was looking around the changing room and thinking 'we haven't got a cat in hell's chance here'. We looked flat on the canvas but Nathan came up with a game plan and switched a few players around.

"It wasn't pretty, sometimes he'd pull what hair he has left out, but the guts from the boys to stick to our principles was just tremendous.

"Browny will go back to Australia a happy man, and one thing for sure is he leaves behind a team who, in the next few years, can go on to great things."

Winter brings a break for both players, with Wellens off to Australia to help England in their Four Nations preparations while Roby - who has opted to rest rather than play on the international stage in the off-season - will take time to reflect on the success.

"I've only won this before in 2006, but this overtakes that, this overtakes the Challenge Cups," Roby said.

"It has been a team effort this year. Everyone has really grafted, it's well known we've had injuries and people had written us off.

"Nobody thought we'd win the League Leaders' Shield but we did and got confidence from that. Then a couple of good wins in the play-offs and still everyone had Wigan as favourites, which makes it sweeter.

"It's such a great feeling to know the hard work has paid off."

Paul Wellens was speaking to BBC Radio Merseyside's Allan Rooney.

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