A familiar champion, but future looks really exciting after Grand Final – Gareth Ellis

Undoubtedly, that was a really worthy Super League Grand Final and the sort of game we all hoped for to sign off this season.

St Helens' James Roby lifts the Betfred Super League Grand Final trophy at Old Trafford. Picture: PA

It was a really intense game at Old Trafford on Saturday and a great spectacle.

What was obvious is why they are the best two teams this year and it was really fitting they came together in such a high-quality affair.

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Each had their own narrative: St Helens going for the ‘three-peat’ which had only been done once before by Leeds Rhinos through 2007, 2008 and 2009.

That alone shows just how difficult it is to do. And Catalans Dragons, with their first Grand Final appearance having rid themselves of their inconsistencies and won the League Leaders Shield. Eventually, I think it was just Saints’ greater experience and that little bit of extra nous that did get them through.

There was some big calls, of course, but I think the officials got it right with the Tommy Makinson one; Fouad Yaha was still too far out to say he would have definitely scored if not for that high tackle.

With the Sione Mata’utia punch, normally you would expect a yellow card for that.

It is very rare we see any punches thrown in Super League nowadays for that very reason: we know the consequences and it will end in a sin-binning.

But it seems to be the case in finals – and I still don’t know why as it should be like this all the time – that officials want the game to flow. A lot of fans then applaud the referee for allowing the game to run freely. But then you get issues, like this, where incidents which have been dealt with one way all season are almost seen differently in the Grand Final.

Regardless, Saturday did live up to all expectations in terms of what we wanted and hoped for from a Grand Final; it was an 80 minutes of the highest order which had people on the edge of their seats throughout.

The scoreboard never got away from either side and that was down to some real desperate defence from both teams.

I thought Saints’ defence towards the back end just epitomised what they have been about for these last three years and the reason why they are as good as they are.

They just work so hard for each other. And that came through in Kevin Naiqama’s interview, too, having won the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man-of-the-match.

He took his two tries really well and it was a fairytale finish for him if that was the last game of his career. And how nice it was a centre and not, like usual, a half-back or a winger who scored three tries who got MOM?

But he said how he was just doing his job for the team, just doing what he had to do to make them successful. They have all been fantastic at that all year.

Catalans have come a long way. A lot of people expected them to drop off but they have shown they won’t. The key for them now is to back up this year’s achievements in 2022. They have received some great exposure and, with Toulouse Olympique winning their own place in Super League last night, it has been a great weekend for French rugby league even if Catalans did not get the trophy.

Toulouse will be a fine addition to the competition and I cannot wait for that first French derby next year.