Super League Grand Final: St Helens beat Salford Red Devils in Old Trafford decider
|Betfred Super League Grand Final|
|St Helens: (12) 23|
|Tries: Knowles, Taia, Percival Goals: Coote 5 Drop-goal: Makinson|
|Salford Red Devils (6) 6|
|Try: Bibby Goal: Inu|
St Helens claimed their seventh Super League title and first since 2014 by comfortably beating Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Morgan Knowles and Zeb Taia scored as Saints began at a terrific tempo.
Salford, playing in their first Grand Final, were given hope when Jake Bibby slid over in the corner.
But Mark Percival scored a sensational try under the posts from his own grubber kick, and Tommy Makinson landed a 40m drop-goal to seal victory.
Makinson's stunning effort, on the verge of the full-time hooter, followed two Lachlan Coote penalties which put the game beyond Salford's reach and ensured that Justin Holbrook ended his time as Saints coach with a major trophy.
The win ends a spell of five years without major domestic silverware for St Helens, who were defeated on the way to the Grand Final in the past two Super League play-offs in addition to their defeat by Warrington in August's Challenge Cup final.
The wait goes on for Salford, meanwhile, who have not won a major honour since their title win of 1976.
St Helens came into the match with a fortnight's rest having beaten Wigan in the first semi-final on 27 September and their freshness showed as Salford looked wasteful when in possession.
Wales international Knowles touched down for his fifth try of the season, with Taia running in after Ken Sio cheaply knocked on inside his own 10 as Saints turned the screw.
Tui Lolohea looked to have powered in with an immediate response for Salford but his impressive solo run-in was ruled out for an obstruction in the build-up.
However, a good spell for the Red Devils culminated in Bibby's try.
Man of Steel winner Jackson Hastings, in his final game for Salford before moving to Wigan next season, was the cornerstone of Salford's fightback, but Percival's score inspired Saints to victory.
Percival's moment of brilliance
If anyone needed a reason for why this Saints side have been said by some to be the greatest team of the Super League era, Percival's second-half try was it.
With Salford fighting back to end the first half toe-to-toe with St Helens after they had scrambled to defend against the power of Alex Walmsley and man-of the-match Luke Thompson in the early stages, Saints set the tempo for the second period.
Despite Salford valiantly holding their own, moments of sheer brilliance like that of Percival's score are hard to prevent.
Running across the pitch looking for space on the last tackle, Percival took matters into his own hands when he nudged a neat grubber kick at a slight angle past the Salford back line and picked his moment to run through a wall of defenders to regain the ball and touch down under the posts.
It was a moment that turned the game in Saints' favour and opened up a 12-point lead over their opponents, which they extended thanks to the boots of Coote and Makinson.
Saints' fitting farewell for Holbrook
In May 2017, St Helens were seventh in Super League and without a head coach after club legend Keiron Cunningham parted ways with Saints the month before.
In stepped Holbrook, who moved to the northern hemisphere for his first full coaching job, having previously been part of coaching teams at NRL sides Sydney, Canterbury, St George and Parramatta.
The Australian, who will now take over at NRL side Gold Coast Titans, has revolutionised Saints and transitioned them into arguably one of the greatest sides in Super League history after a lull in silverware following their Grand Final triumph in 2014.
A League Leaders' Shield win in 2018 was followed in August by a first Challenge Cup final appearance for over a decade.
Those achievements were overshadowed, however, as Holbrook's side failed to turn their fine form over the course of the regular season into trophies as they were defeated by Warrington in last season's Super League play-offs and this year's Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
However, another League Leaders' Shield win followed this term, as Saints finished a whopping 16 points clear of second-placed Wigan, who they went on to thrash in the first of this year's Super League play-off semi-finals.
That win sent them on their way to a first Old Trafford appearance for five years and they made comfortable work of seeing off a Salford side who looked unfazed when facing Super League's elite this season.
Valiant Salford undone by St Helens
Only four teams had won a Super League title going into this season's Grand Final under the lights at Manchester United's Old Trafford, which illustrates the task Salford had to cause an upset.
What would have been a fairytale story for the ages was not to be.
A side that many wrote off as relegation candidates once more at the beginning of the season almost went all the way to beat one of the most formidable sides that Super League has ever seen.
Salford have been the story of the season and, under coach Ian Watson, have experienced a remarkable year on their way to their first Grand Final.
Just 12 months ago, the Red Devils were battling against relegation and looked a million miles away from a play-off spot, let alone a place in the domestic game's showpiece occasion.
But, having demolished Castleford and Wigan on their way to the final, Salford could not rekindle the magic that saw them earn their final appearance, despite Bibby's first-half try which gave the 13,000 travelling Salford fans reason to believe.
'We had to play well' - post-match reaction
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook told BBC Radio 5 Live:
"To be able to deliver the trophy back to the town is all I wanted to do. It took me two-and-a-half years to do it, but I've finally done it.
"I was really confident in our side but we had to play well, and we did.
"I knew Salford wouldn't go away, so I didn't expect to blow them away early at all - all credit to them, they played a great game.
"We've done a lot of good work and to finish it off with the trophy is awesome."
Salford half-back Jackson Hastings told BBC Radio 5 Live:
"St Helens were too good in the end. I think anyone who came here tonight and played against them would have found it hard.
"In that first 25 minutes we couldn't get out of our own end then when we got a bit of ruck speed we were able to play on the front foot and cause them problems.
"But in games like this the cream rises to the top, and that's what happened tonight. They were too good in the end and are the best side of the year for a reason."
'Saints are Super League's best' - analysis
Former England half-back Kevin Brown on BBC Radio 5 Live:
"Salford can hold their heads up high, they've been fantastic all year and have probably been the second-best side in the competition.
"They ran St Helens close and Saints had to win that game. Hopefully, it's the start of a few successful years for Salford."
Former Great Britain and Wales international Iestyn Harris told BBC Radio 5 Live:
"Justin Holbrook has done a phenomenal job at St Helens. Delivering the trophy today is the icing on the cake.
"The standard of rugby St Helens have played in the last 12 months is the best I have ever seen in Super League.
"Yes, he's got the players but to get them playing with that confidence, he will be a big loss to Super League."
St Helens: Lomax, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Knowles, Peyroux, Coote.
Interchanges: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Ashworth, Smith.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Welham, Bibby, Mossop, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy, Tomkins, Sio, Inu, Lolohea, Hastings.
Interchanges: Lussick, Flanagan, Walker, Burke.
Referee: C. Kendall.