Kristian Woolf praise for key man in St Helens’ Grand Final semi-final victory over Salford

Saints went into the match without Alex Walmsley, but Matty Lees stepped up to the plate magnificently.

<p>St Helens' Joe Batchelor scores his side's second try of the game. Picture: Will Matthews/PA Wire.</p>

St Helens' Joe Batchelor scores his side's second try of the game. Picture: Will Matthews/PA Wire.

St Helens coach Kristian Woolf described his team as the most successful in the history of Super League after they set up the opportunity to win an unprecedented fourth successive Grand Final.

Woolf’s men will play Leeds in the 25th Grand Final at Old Trafford next Saturday after they held on for a 19-12 victory over Salford in a spellbinding semi-final at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Two early tries from second rower Joe Batchelor helped Saints into a 12-0 lead but they were forced to withstand a tremendous fightback from the Red Devils before securing victory that gives them a chance to make history.

“I can’t find enough words to describe how hard it is to do that,” Woolf said.

“But what this group has been able to do over the last four years, in my mind, makes it the most successful group in Super League history and this is an opportunity to go and cement that.

“There is a lot of hard work to be done, it’s going to be a cracking game.”

Praise for Matty Lees

Woolf was especially delighted with the way his side overcame the loss of England front rower Alex Walmsley, with Matty Lees stepping up to the plate magnificently to offset his considerable absence.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Woolf said. “It’s the job of front rowers to get you on the front foot and for 50 minutes he did just that. He was the best front rower on the field.

“If he backs it up again next week, it puts us in a great position to win the game.

“It was a very tough game. I’m really proud of our guys. We started with great intensity and put Salford under enormous pressure.

“To their credit, they hung in and made it a real contest but we kept fighting and that is what makes this group so special.”

Morgan Knowles ban would be shock

The only disappointment for Saints was the sin-binning of loose forward Morgan Knowles for a dangerous challenge on half-back Chris Atkin which could have repercussions when the Rugby Football League’s match review panel meet on Monday.

St Helens' Jonathan Bennison (left) is congratulated by his team mates after scoring his side's third try of the game. Picture: Will Matthews/PA Wire.

A ban would not only rule the England international out of the Grand Final but could cast a doubt over his availability for the World Cup but Woolf is not expecting that to happen.

“I’d be absolutely flabbergasted if that was a ban,” Woolf said. “I can’t see what was dangerous.

“We put those things in place for dangerous play but I can’t see what was dangerous in that tackle so I would be extremely surprised if anything came of it.”

Already without Man of Steel contender Brodie Croft, Salford were dealt another desperately unlucky blow after only two minutes when Andy Ackers was forced out of the action with a head injury.

“It was massive, especially on the back of losing Brodie Croft,” said coach Paul Rowley, who expects Ackers to receive an England call for the World Cup.

“We go all year with a really settled spine and, when it matters, we lose two of them to concussions.

“It was a huge blow. He’s the best hooker in the comp this year. I think he will get an England call and I think he deserves it. He’s been outstanding all year and I think he (Shaun Wane) will pick players on form.”