St Helens confirmed their dominance of the domestic season by showing that they are the closest thing the Super League era has produced to a side without weak links. Severely tested by Hull throughout the first half, Daniel Anderson's side eventually ran out convincing winners of their fourth Grand Final at a packed Old Trafford on Saturday.
The winning margin might have been wider than in 1999, 2000 and 2002, but this was far from easy for Saints. Just as when they met Huddersfield in the Cup final, they were challenged sufficiently to show all aspects of their excellence.
"We made some massive defensive plays out there," said Anderson. "Hull could have scored three or four tries. I can't speak highly enough of this group of players. They've only lost four games all season and that was by one, two, three and four points."
That sort of tenacity was needed at Old Trafford, especially during a first half when Hull, in their first Grand Final, took the game to the hot favourites. Full of enterprise and invention, Peter Sharp's side would have done untold damage to any other team. But Saints held firm, limiting them to one beautifully worked try, by Sid Domic.
Other tries were denied when Jamie Lyon and Paul Wellens took Gareth Raynor into the corner flag after Paul Cooke's long pass had opened the way, and when Jon Wilkin caught the excellent Shaun Briscoe from behind. Not only did Saints show that sort of defensive resilience, they also had the guile to take the lead, against the run of play and on their first attack, through Sean Long's kick for Francis Meli.
The key moment of the match, however, came a minute before half-time. Graeme Horne was harshly penalised for obstruction by Karl Kirkpatrick, even though he did not appear to have prevented a tackle being made when he strayed behind a team-mate. When Leon Pryce then took Long's pass, the Hull defence opened up to let the stand-off slice through and a half that should have seen Hull ahead ended with them six points behind. "That minute before half-time was crucial," said Sharp. "Had we gone in at 4-4 we might have had a spring in our stride."
As it was, it was Saints who had all the momentum after the break. Not for the first time, they got a telling contribution from their bench players, with James Roby getting the ball out for Willie Talau's try and Maurie Fa'asavalu - surely the most improved player in Super League - smuggling the ball out of the tackle for Keiron Cunningham to score.
Those two tries underlined the way that there is no discernible tail-off when Saints shuffle their line-up on the field. It means no respite for their opponents, just a new set of problems.
In between those tries, Ade Gardner scored from another perfectly judged kick from Long, who came close to adding the Harry Sunderland Trophy to the Lance Todd Trophy he won as man of the match in Saints' Challenge Cup final victory. In the end, that honour went to Wellens, completing a near-perfect season for the full-back.
"He's pretty handy, there's no doubt about that. The only thing he can't do is goal-kick," said Anderson, a coach who still seems unable to believe the riches he has had at his disposal this season.
"I think I will regale people with stories about this team and bore people for years," he said. That team will be largely intact next season, apart from the retirement of the prop Paul Anderson, who is joining the coaching staff at Huddersfield, and Lyon's return to Australia after two glittering years.
"It's great to top it off with the double," Lyon said. "I'll shed a few tears when I go, but, who knows, I might be back. They've been two of the greatest years of my life." Anderson confirmed the way the match had looked from the stands. "This game was every bit as tough as the 12-8 win at Knowsley Road two weeks ago," he said.
Despite the wider margin at Old Trafford, Hull had little to be ashamed of. "It was very disappointing, but it's still been a great season - very rewarding for me and the players," Sharp said. He did not believe that a hard game against Bradford eight days earlier had been a factor, but said that his side will benefit from a little more experience and a little more size next season.
They are not far off, but Saints have set the standard this season, everyone else fell short of it.
St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilkin, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Graham, Bennett, Fa'asavalu
Hull: Briscoe; Tony, Domic, Yeaman, Raynor; Cooke, R Horne; Dowes, Swain, Carvell, McMenemy, Radford, Washbrook. Substitutes used: Whiting, G Horne, Wheeldon, King,
Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).Reuse content