It’s time to reflect on the year that’s gone … enjoy saintsrlfc.com review of an action packed season.
Saints continued their pre-season preparation with a trip to the Lake District and Cassius Camps. Day one took in a 45km mountain bike ride followed by clay pigeon shooting and a physical challenge.
The lads camped in a local hall overnight and were then treated to a long hike around Grisdale.
And it set them in good stead too as their first pre-season friendly saw them beat Widnes 16-0 – Ryan Morgan, Luke Douglas, Tommy Lee and Adam Walker all featuring for the first time.
Sadly, our other debutant, Matty Smith, suffered a broken leg in the clash that would rule him out for a while.
Saints’ next pre-season friendly was against eventual Grand Finalists Castleford Tigers, but they couldn’t match the intensity of the win over the Vikings, eventually losing 22-6.
In-between, Kyle Amor, Joe Greenwood, Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival, James Roby and Matty Smith were all named in England’s Elite Squad.
Saints got their 2017 campaign off to a great start with a 6-4 win over Leeds Rhinos.
Theo Fages scored the winner in a performance that saw quality defence on both sides.
Joe Greenwood played in the match but in the following weeks moved to Gold Coast Titans with Zeb Taia coming the other way.
Taia wasn’t ready for Saints’ next fixture – a trip to newly promoted Leigh who had narrowly lost to Leeds a week previous.
A poor start cost Saints too as they went down 24-16.
The following Monday, Luke Douglas was sidelined with a hand injury but there was better news as Taia linked up with his new club at the back end of the month.
Saints entered March looking to climb back up the ladder after an indifferent start … but were downed late by Wakefield 16-12 at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
A much better performance followed on the road at Hull FC, but the Airlie Birds took the spoils 24-14.
Saints were admittedly disjoined after losing their new half back – but they steadied the ship with a fantastic win in Catalans – Fages producing the pass of the season.
There’s no arguments over that!
Better was to follow as Smith returned to guide Saints to a comprehensive 31-6 win over Warrington – Adam Swift bagging two tries.
The wins got Saints up the table but a loss at Salford checked progress a little; the side failing to overcome a 14-0 deficit.
Saints began the month hoping to get back on track but gave up a 14 point lead at home to Huddersfield. Both teams eventually sharing a point.
The game was the last for club legend Keiron Cunningham who ended his 24 year association with the Saints.
As a result, assistant coaches Sean Long and Jamahl Lolesi were joined by Academy coach Derek Traynor to form an interim coaching team whilst the club looked for a new appointment.
Mark Percival signed an extension through until 2021.
The coaching trio’s first game was away at Wigan, and, sadly, a superb performance wasn’t rewarded with points.
Saints lost 29-18, but the game will be remembered for two things – the debut of Regan Grace and the incorrect decision to send Kyle Amor off after just 15 minutes.
A red hot Castleford came to the Totally Wicked Stadium on Easter Monday but Saints ripped up the formbook to win 26-22.
But the inconsistency that had dogged Saints’ play throughout the early part of the season continued four days later as Widnes snatched a late one 16-14.
Yet, Saints did end the month on a high with a vital 28-6 win over Leigh.
Saints entered a pivotal period of fixtures that would see them face Castleford in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and Hull at the Magic Weekend alongside their other Super League fixtures.
And a packed fixture programme coincided with a new gaffer too as Justin Holbrook was appointed into the role.
He didn’t arrive in the country until later in the month and perhaps that disjointedness and uncertainty showed as Saints were downed 40-18 at Warrington in their first fixture of the month.
Castleford were too good for Saints in the Cup too, winning 53-10, before Holbrook arrived to guide Saints into the Magic Weekend.
And guide them he certainly did as Saints beat Hull FC 45-0, a result no one predicted.
Six different players scored – Walmsley and Grace bagging braces – but it was Tommy Makinson’s length of the field effort that would live long in the memory.
The best was still to come too, as Saints not only signed one of the world’s best players but beat Wigan all in the space of two days.
Saints signed Ben Barba up on a two-and-a-half year deal and then beat Wigan 22-19 in one of the best contests at the Totally Wicked Stadium to date.
Percival snatching it late.
And it got better as Regan Grace agreed a new two-year deal too before the end of the month.
Tom Holmes’ late try gave Castleford a 16-12 win over Saints – but Holbrook admitted after the game the result showed how good the Tigers were and the work his men still had to put in.
They bounced back with a 26-10 win over Widnes
but backed that up with a 24-16 loss at Huddersfield.
Barba finally arrived in the country too to train with his teammates but couldn’t play until his 12-game suspension had ended.
On the field, Matty Smith’s incredible drop goal gave Saints a 25-24 win over Salford … and you simply have to check out the highlights for this one!
Jonny Lomax also agreed a new contract.
The month ended with a 24-22 loss at Headingley that was packed with controversial moments and a horrible eye injury to Matty Smith.
Saints almost repeated a famous Salfordesque win but had left it a little too late to leave Holbrook frustrated.
Mark Percival produced a sublime finish as Saints beat Hull FC 19-12 to keep their top four hopes alive.
They then ran in seven tries to defeat Catalans 46-28.
According to Holbrook, Saints were in already in Super 8s mode and it showed as they moved to within one point of the top four with a comfortable 41-16 win over Wakefield in probably their most complete performance to date.
On to the Super 8s, and Saints first game brought a 26-12 win at Castleford. Holbrook’s side were excellent throughout with James Roby scoring a brace.
Two frustrating results followed … 8-6 at home to Hull FC
before another late loss at Leeds.
But all eyes were on Ben Barba’s debut and it coincided with the visit of Wigan …
The star showed up well on his first outing too, scoring a try on debut, but the Warriors went away with the win.
It left Saints effectively needing to win their remaining fixtures to secure a semi-final berth – and they did just that.
Firstly, Jonny Lomax landed a dramatic win over Wakefield,
before Huddersfield were despatched 40-16.
Ben Barba then starred in a 30-4 win over Salford.
Off the field, Mark Percival was named in the Dream Team, whilst James Roby scooped three honours at the club’s End of Season Awards.
The hooker won the Players’ Player of the Year, the Members’ Player of the Year and the Player of the Year accolades.
Elsewhere, Luke Thompson and Tommy Makinson signed new contracts to continue the good news.
Saints’ late season form had set up a semi-final at Castleford and what a game it proved to be.
For the vast majority of the game they were the better side and led with only moments to spare. But heartbreak was to follow as Luke Gale dropped a one-pointer in Golden Point Extra Time to send the League Leaders to Old Trafford.
After the game Justin Holbrook said: “I am very proud of the playing group and it was good to see the fans stick around after the game and make the journey over in the first place too. It was good for the players to see that as it has been a weird old season for them. We know we have to start better next year.
“It will take a while to get over this one but I love the playing group and I am looking forward to a full season here next year.”
Alex Walmsley was named Top Metre Maker at the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel Awards with Luke Gale taking the overall award.
Danny Richardson marked a stellar debut season too with a new contract.
The Academy went on their bi-annual Tour of Australia and came back with three wins from their four games – continuing the strong heritage of touring Saints sides since 2004.
Ricky Bailey and Jonah Cunningham both moved to Leigh Centurions on loan for the 2018 season and joined four others in extending their contracts at the club. Jake Spedding, Liam Cooper, Ben Morris and Aaron Smith all put pen to paper on new deals.
But in-between the excitement of the World Cup and Tour, the sad news about the loss of Tom van Vollenhoven shook the town, club and rugby league world.
There were beautiful tributes from all over the world and the club hosted a celebration of Tom’s life at the Parish Church in St Helens Town Centre.
11 Saints travelled to the World Cup – Jonny Lomax, James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival were part of the England side that reached the final, whilst Regan Grace, Morgan Knowles and Ben Morris (Wales), Luke Douglas (Scotland), Theo France (France) and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Kyle Amor (Ireland) bowed out at the group stage.
Saints learnt their fixtures for the 2018 campaign at the beginning of the month – and they will host Castleford on February 2 in the opener.
Justin Holbrook began his first pre-season with the Saints and signed up Dom Peyroux for another season.
Squad numbers for 2018 were also announced with Ben Barba being given the iconic number 23 shirt – Matty Costello joining the first team squad.
A chunk of the squad returned to training on November 6 with Holbrook and the coaching staff putting them through their paces right from the off. Ben Barba also returned whilst Kyle Amor and several other international players came back early too.
Saints and Thatto Heath Crusaders ARLFC joined forces to enter a team in the 2018 Women’s Super League.
Saints and Proud hit the town in earnest as the first team squad visited 63 schools as well as making appearances at our local community clubs, the Saints Superstore and the Christmas Lights Switch on.
The boys continued to train hard as well with all players back and good to go in the final week before Christmas.
And, as a thank you to the fans, Justin Holbrook threw open training for all to watch before the players signed off for Christmas!
Here’s to 2018!
Memberships for the new campaign are now on sale. To find out more click here.