St Helens picked up the League Leaders’ Shield, awarded to the club finishing top of the Betfred Super League table at the end of the regular season after a below-par 36-16 home win over Toulouse Olympique on Saturday afternoon, knowing they will need to lift their game to greater heights if they want to go on and achieve a record-breaking fourth Grand Final success on the trot.
It was a lacklustre 80 minutes and that wasn’t surprising when there was nothing at stake for either side and in the French club’s case they fielded what can best be described as a team of rookies.
But an off-colour Saints didn’t really put them to bed until the latter stages after relegated Toulouse had the temerity to register the first points on the scoreboard with only a few minutes on the clock. At that stage they threatened to complete a shock league double over the defending champions.
In the end, that was just wishful thinking, yet will act as a reminder to St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf, on an emotional day in his career, that there are no walkovers in Rugby League in this day and age and Saints will need to be at their best when crunch time arrives.
Woolf said: “I have said all along that it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this club and those fans. I and the players appreciate everything they do for us. I’m hoping I don’t have to say goodbye just yet because we’ve got the play-offs. It has been a really big part of my life and something I am very proud to have been part of.”
Saints took some time to find any kind of fluency but Woolf was pleased they did, finishing with some flair.
He said: “It was a tough game given there was nothing riding on the result. It took us a while to get going but there was a different intensity in the second half.
"Once we found some space to play in we had a bit of fun. It was a good day for the club and the League Leaders Shield is a great achievement
“It has been a really challenging year. We haven’t got through many games without losing someone and have had to deal with a lot of disruption. To be in this position having won the Shield with all the things we’ve overcome is an outstanding effort by the group.
“I thought a couple of our tries were outstanding. We have earned a week off (before the play-offs) and that comes at a good time.”
St Helens: Bennison; Makinson, Hurrell, Davies, Lane; Welsby, Lomax; Paasi, Lussick, Lees, Batchelor, Sironen, Knowles.
Interchanges: Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Bell, Norman.
Toulouse: Ashall-Bott; Laguerre, Jussaume, Armitage, Bergal; Hankinson, Paulo; Belmas, Peats, Alvaro, Peyroux, Stefani, Marion.
Interchanges: Pelissier, Bretherton, Hansen, Sangare.
Referee: Michael Smaill.