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Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 07:31 UK

Saints need to believe

GRAND FINAL: Leeds v St Helens
Venue: Old Trafford Date: Saturday, 10 October 2009 Kick-off: 1800 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC 5 live sports extra, live text on BBC Sport website, coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, local radio. Live on Sky Sports 1

Saints have lost the last two Grand Finals to Leeds
Saints have lost the last two Grand Finals to Leeds

By BBC Radio 5 live's George Riley

I've been bantering with one of the St Helens players on text this week about their last two Grand Final appearances.

Saints came second best in the Old Trafford showpiece to Leeds both times, despite being the best team over the course of the season.

This time it's different. Saints are underdogs in their bid to stop the blue and amber from becoming the first team to seal a hat-trick of Grand Final triumphs in as many years. Or, as the Americans call this great sporting treble, a "three-peat".

Let's be honest, as Leeds half-back Danny McGuire said this week, Saturday's game between the two best rugby league sides in the northern hemisphere is a 50-50 call.

Indeed, the League Leaders' Shield could be seen as something of a Grand Final poisoned chalice. Saints have finished top of the regular season the last four years and gone on to lift the Old Trafford silverware just once.


Needless to say, neither of Leeds' last two successes have been achieved from the Super League summit.

"Our boys don't look at it like we're defending champions," Rhinos coach Brian McClennan told me when I had a coffee with him on the eve of the new season back in February.

"The club, the players, myself, the coaching staff - none of us see it that way. That was then, this is now. You can't defend a title. We will try to attack our way back there."

Fast forward 10 months and what a telling comment that was from 'Bluey', who has moulded his own version of the great entertainers that St Helens have themselves been in recent years.

Forty-eight of the Rhinos' 148 tries this season have come in just their last six games.

McGuire puts that down to the amount of "big-game players" and "match-winners" in the Leeds team, of which he is undoubtedly one, having scored four tries in his four Grand Final appearances.

When I had that pre-season chat with McClennan and a few of the players back in February, I'll admit I found their Kirkstall training base to be a very low-key, and, if I'm honest, a bit quiet and moody.

I wondered whether this was because the champions were immensely focused or I'd just caught them on a bad day.

The reason it struck be so much was that the previous day I'd been in the midst of a St Helens weights session in the Saints gym and the place was rocking.

I'd never seen first-hand such a powerful, infectious team morale within a professional team. They even made me - a Yorkshireman - kit up in Saints gear to get involved.

Back then, at the start of a bruising season of Super League, I asked Paul Wellens to contemplate the prospect of a third straight Leeds-Saints final. The full-back told me it was what he wanted more than anything in his testimonial year.

Kevin Sinfield and Paul Wellens
Who will be left holding the trophy at the end of the game?

"We have points to prove," he told me. "We were absolutely outstanding the last two years apart from two games - we let ourselves down big time in the two Grand Finals."

You can't disagree with Wellens, who has become Mr St Helens, a real warrior and an inspiration.

Saints were comprehensively undone by Leeds on both occasions, having been so dominant through the season. That has to plays on the minds of Wellens and co, doesn't it?

"Not at all," Jon Wilkin tells me. "The shadow of the last two Grand Finals is not hovering over us. It's not there at all. It is one of those things you just can't focus on.

"It's just the way the competition is structured. We can't dwell on it, we still knew we were the better team over the year."

I struggle to believe Wilko when he tells me the double Old Trafford heartache is no longer an issue. And Jamie Peacock agrees that the bitter memory of defeat will be used as a spur.

"Old Trafford is a bad place to lose," he said. "It's always useful to remember how much a defeat hurt you as you can use it as motivation to make sure you don't go there again.

"But if Jon says they forgot about it straight away then fine, I'm not going to call St Helens liars. If they say they have, then they have."


St Helens coach Mick Potter knows the experienced heads in his team will play a crucial role on Saturday.

But given the vibrant team spirit I saw first-hand at Saints at the start of the year, I was surprised to hear of an unhappy dressing room towards the end of this season.

One of my Saints sources - a leading light for them in the Super League era - hinted to me that the quiet, unassuming Potter had lost a couple of senior heads in the dressing room.

Coupled with a few baffling team selections, it might help to explain their poor run of just six wins in their last 12 regular season games.

But the creases look to have been ironed out by their return to form in the play-offs.

Narrow wins over Huddersfield and Wigan prove they have the grit and brute force to prosper when their "great entertainer" streak is stifled by opposition defences.

Potter has never been to a Grand Final and insists it is just another game. "I'm looking forward to my players trying to prove to their fans they can win one of these," he says.

The Saints fans know they can win it, but, based on the last two finals, the players have to believe they can succeed.

Whatever happens, it should be brutal but magnificent exhibition.

Listen to George and co-commentators Stuart Pyke and Justin Morgan call the action live from Old Trafford from 1745 BST on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.

You can follow George on Grand Final matchday at

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see also
St Helens 10-18 Leeds Rhinos
10 Oct 09 |  Rugby League
Gidley hopes for third time lucky
07 Oct 09 |  St Helens
Defence key in final - Flannery
06 Oct 09 |  St Helens
Leeds 27-20 Catalans
02 Oct 09 |  Rugby League
St Helens 14-10 Wigan
03 Oct 09 |  Rugby League
Road to Old Trafford
25 Sep 09 |  Rugby League
The Jon Wilkin interview
30 Sep 09 |  Rugby League

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