In the build-up to the anniversary date of our Club's founding, we are looking at various parts of our gloriously storied history.
For Day 6 we rewind 17 years to 2006, in a year where it simply does not get any better…
After finishing top of the league in 2005 and earning the League Leaders’ Shield, injuries to Darren Albert and Sean Long affected the St.Helens team and resulted in the Saints not reaching the Grand Final at Old Trafford come the end of that campaign. Combined with a bitterly disappointing Challenge Cup exit in the semi-finals, there was a huge motivation for Daniel Anderson’s men to go bigger and better in 2006.
Anderson recruited strongly for his second season in charge with Francis Meli, Jason Cayless, and Leon Pryce all added to a brilliant core group of Saints men such as the aforementioned Long, Keiron Cunningham, and Paul Wellens, all reaching the peak of their powers. Add in two rising stars in the shape of James Roby and James Graham, with the dazzling stardom of centre Jamie Lyon to boot, the 2006 squad was one built for success.
The new season started at The Stoop in Twickenham, London, and our Saints chalked up their first league win of the year over Harlequins, but it would not be until Round 13 that Anderson’s men would taste defeat, something they only did four times all year…
Key wins in that initial run included beating Warrington away in Baltic conditions, cruising past future fellow Grand Finalists Hull FC at their home stadium 0-46, and easily beating Wigan Warriors at home.
St.Helens kept racking up wins in the league and progressed through to the Challenge Cup Final by beating Doncaster, Bradford, Catalans in the quarter-finals, and dominating Hull KR in the semi-finals. The showpiece event was played at Twickenham due to the construction of the new Wembley, and Sean Long earned a third Lance Todd trophy in Saints’ 42-12 victory over Huddersfield Giants.
Trophy one: secured. Up next: the League Leaders’ Shield, which was achieved by winning ten of the last eleven games with Paul Sculthorpe showing tremendous leadership and skill. Trophy number two: in the bag, a second Shield in successive years.
By finishing top of the table Anderson’s men earned a home semi-final and a crucial week off, but so did Hull FC who were full of spirit in a strong year that saw them finish second in the league standings. The first shot at getting to Old Trafford was a nail-biter, edged by the Red V 12-8 at Knowsley Road thanks to tries from Francis Meli and Ade Gardener.
Whilst the Saints waited to see who they would face in the Grand Final as Hull FC welcomed Bradford in another thriller and the Black & Whites booked their first appearance at Manchester United’s home triumphing by 19-12.
History beckoned, Sants were chasing a historic treble to finish off what could be one of the finest campaigns of rugby league ever seen. The game was a tough and close affair, not reflected by the final scoreline, with Meli scoring the first try and Hull grabbing the second to level.
In the closing moments of the half, Leon Pryce looked to his right but ran forward to break the Hull FC line and race into the right corner for the lead heading into the break. Lyon’s conversion from the touchline made it 10-4.
Following the restart, the Red V grasped control of the fixture with Jason Hooper finding a killer pass to Willie Talau for the first try of the half. As they often did that season, Saints turned one try into two with Ade Gardener leaping high, catching the Sean Long high bomb, and grounding it.
The Airlie Birds were desperate to get back into the game, but 2006’s Man of Steel Paul Wellens came up with two vital try-stopping tackles in the same dangerous attacking Hull set.
Victory was confirmed minutes later, Maurie Fa’asavalu as he drove to the line and got held got an offload away to Keiron Cunningham to burrow down for his iconic 150th St.Helens score.
The Treble was achieved. Saints swept away before them; with a World Title to come in the following February. 2006 was an incredibly special season and will be remembered for all time.