St Helens “deserve to be remembered” with the club’s greats of the past after clinching their third Grand Final in a row, says boss Kristian Woolf.
The Saints edged past Catalans Dragons 12-10 in a fierce encounter to collect a record-equalling eighth final win.
The triumph at Old Trafford completed a double, having also won this season’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
“A special group of men have achieved something very special. St Helens should be proud of them,” said Woolf.
Previous Saints teams which included legends such as Keiron Cunningham, Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe and Paul Wellens had never managed to win three titles on the trot.
Saturday’s victory goes alongside the defeat of Salford at Old Trafford in 2019 before edging past Wigan to win the Grand Final behind closed doors in Hull last season.
Leeds Rhinos are the only other side to win the domestic competition in three consecutive years, triumphing in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and beating Saints on all three occasions.
Australian Woolf said: “It is something we thought about the more and more it was spoken about. I am very aware of the enormity of it. It is so hard to do and a special group has deserved everything they get.
“They deserve to be remembered with the best Saints teams and I could not be prouder in being involved in it.
“To hear that noise and reaction of the fans, going out and spending a couple of minutes with the players to enjoy what we have achieved then hearing them signing the song, that reception you get is why these players play footy.”
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‘Talk about fairytale endings’
Centre Kevin Naiqama scored tries in either half in a tight affair to sign off from St Helens on a high as he retires from the sport to return home to Australia with his family.
He was named man of the match in Manchester, being awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy by guest of honour Rob Burrow, and was in tears at the full-time whistle.
“Emotional because of so many factors,” he said. “Talk about fairytale endings and you could not have written a better script. The last time being here, last time being coached by Woolfy and it was a lot to process. I am an emotional person and will probably shed a few more tears this weekend.”
Asked if the victory means he has changed his mind about retiring, Naiqama replied: “I haven’t. It was a hard decision that me and my wife made. I have enjoyed my time and this group of players and coaching staff have been amazing on and off the field. It is something I am grateful for an I am definitely going to miss this team.”
‘Disappointment is sickening’
Catalans had clinched the regular season League Leaders’ Shield by pipping Saints, but came up agonisingly short in their maiden Grand Final appearance.
The French side have come a long way since their competition debut 15 years ago, winning the Challenge Cup in 2018, but failed to become the first overseas side to win the sport’s showpiece event.
Boss Steve McNamara said: “The disappointment is sickening because of how much is invested. I know people invest in it but this is different. The travel and the commitment from the player, it is a kick in the teeth but we will be back.
“This isn’t the last step for the Dragons, this is just the next step and we have to keep doing that. What it has done is opened up a brand new market and exposed people to a whole new scenario with the Catalans and French rugby league. We have taken some big steps forward and it has been a huge effort.
“I am extremely proud of what they have achieved this season but extremely disappointed not to finish the job off.”