St HELENS coach Royce Simmons admits what once appeared as bad fortune has, instead, been crucial in putting his side within touching distance of a longed-for Super League title.
The Australian has taken Saints to a Grand Final in his first season in charge and victory over Leeds would see them end their four-year losing run at Old Trafford.
He has overcome some major obstacles with a crippling injury list at one point threatening to derail their hopes.
For the match at Huddersfield in May, he was without 10 first-teamers, including seven of the 19-man squad he has named for this evening’s final.
With Keiron Cunningham having retired last winter, England internationals Leon Pryce and Kyle Eastmond played together just once at half-back and there was a distinct lack of experience.
But that meant youngsters Jonny Lomax and Lee Gaskell were pitched together as their axis and they have quickly established themselves as one of the most dynamic pairings around while teenage winger Tom Makinson has also proved an able deputy for the injured Ade Gardner.
“With the injuries, at the time you feel sorry for yourself,” said Simmons.
“But you give a lot of young blokes valuable time in first grade and the more games they play the more they believe in themselves and the better they become as football players.
“A lot of those boys were given an opportunity and they produced. What was a weakness earlier in the year has probably become a strength.
“It is real good reward for the boys who have worked so hard.”
Simmons, who coached Hull in the days before Super League, could join illustrious company by becoming the ninth man to coach a team to Grand-Final glory at the first attempt tonight.
Wigan’s John Monie was the inaugural winner in 1998, Ellery Hanley, Ian Millward and Daniel Anderson all achieved the feat in their first full seasons at St Helens, Brian Noble did it with Bradford in 2001 and both Tony Smith and Brian McClennan were Old Trafford winners at the end of their first seasons in charge of Leeds.
“I pinch myself that I am involved with such a great club as St Helens and to make the Grand Final in my first year here is fantastic,” said the former Penrith coach.
“I have picked up quite a few wooden spoons from my playing days and to be at such a fantastic stadium, playing against a team like Leeds Rhinos with such a great history, two of the greatest clubs in the world coming together, it should be fantastic for rugby league.”