Written by Callum Walker
Photo by SaintsRLFC
A year ago fans and pundits alike were asking the same question – can St Helens be stopped? That answer turned out to be a yes, with the Lancashire club falling at the semi-finals stage in both the Challenge Cup and Super League play-offs. Things had already turned sour in the back end of the season tho, with superstar Man of Steel Ben Barba announcing his return home, derailing Saints’ year.
Now though, St Helens look all the more like potential champions. Barba has been replaced by the impressive Lachlan Coote whilst other new recruits Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo have fit in tremendously well. Head coach Justin Holbrook has gone from strength to strength and has instilled a winning mentality at the club that leaves Saints the favourites to win a clean sweep in 2019.
St Helens sit on top of Super League with 11 wins from 12. Warrington sit second four points behind, but look nothing like a St Helens side that currently boasts a remarkable points difference of +229.
Their only loss came away at Catalans Dragons as the French side triumphed 18-10, but this was only a minor blip as Saints thrashed Warrington a week later 38-12. What the Dragons were able to do, no other side in Super League has come close to replicating.
How did Catalans do it? Well, they fought fire with fire; their pack is renowned for their size, and, whilst St Helens’ forwards are not exactly small, the Dragons battered them down the middle. In fact, the French side have one of the biggest packs in the league and beat the Saints at their own game, something which no other side can do.
It could even be said that St Helens have improved from 2018; no longer heavily reliant on one man – Ben Barba – they are a much more well-rounded team and pose a threat from all over the field. Coote, Naiqama and Paulo all look the part whilst Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages and Danny Richardson have looked increasingly dangerous at halfback.
The evergreen James Roby looks as imposing as ever at dummy-half with forwards Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley, Zeb Taia and Dom Peyroux in inspiring form. Whilst other teams are struggling with injuries, Saints have just Mark Percival and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook on the sidelines. Whether this is just good luck or an enhanced conditioning level, St Helens are reaping the rewards.
On their form so far, they look incredibly difficult to stop and it will take something special to ensure they miss out on silverware in 2019.