Gareth Ellis – St Helens deserving Grand Final winners ahead of fascinating Great Britain tour

St Helens players celebrate with the trophy at Old Trafford. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA
St Helens players celebrate with the trophy at Old Trafford. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA
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THERE can be no complaints about St Helens being Super League champions: now the rest of the competition has to try and catch up.

I don’t think it was a classic Grand Final on Saturday but, in the grand scheme of things, Saints’ 23-6 success over Salford Red Devils was a fair reflection.

IN THE FRAME: St Helens' Jonny Lomax. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

IN THE FRAME: St Helens' Jonny Lomax. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

As dominant as Saints have been this year, it’s almost justice that they then went on to win at Old Trafford.

I don’t think Salford – in their first Grand Final – disgraced themselves at all; they were in it for long periods of time and there was a couple of decisions that didn’t go their way as well, 50/50s which might just have turned the tide a little bit.

In the second half, there was the one after Joey Lussick’s 40/20 kick where Gil Dudson was penalised for not playing the ball correctly but there was clear interference.

In the first half, I even thought the try ruled out for obstruction was a little bit harsh as well.

They are worthy champions having finished the season 16 points ahead of their nearest rivals and are far and away the one team that has stood above everyone else.

Gareth Ellis

That could have gone either way; I’m not sure Tui Lolohea went around the back of his own player.

There was just a few things that didn’t go Salford’s way and when you’re playing against a team like St Helens you do need those 50/50s just once or twice to swing in your favour.

They probably didn’t get them but that’s not taking anything away from Saints.

They were deserved winners; they went about their business very professionally and actually didn’t give Salford that many opportunities which is what Grand Final rugby is all about.

BIG DECISIONS: England and GB coach, Wayne Bennett. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

BIG DECISIONS: England and GB coach, Wayne Bennett. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

So, there’s no complaints at all from me and the work in the middle from their props like Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley was impressive.

They are so athletic. That’s their strength; it’s not just the size and power of the middles Saints have, it’s the mobility and speed of them as well.

They take the ball right up to the advantage line and really punch into your defensive line.

It’s a strength they have that not many other teams have got; that speed, power and quickness of the play.

Then, on the back of a quick play-the-ball, the next guy is coming at 100 miles per hour and it’s tough to deal with once they have that roll on as so many teams have found out this year.

When I was watching it on Saturday we were all wondering who the man of the match would be as there wasn’t any really anyone who owned the game as such or particularly stood out.

It was a great team performance but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge Luke Thompson it; that power and those quick play-the-balls would have gone a long way to making sure Saints got on top in a to-and-fro game and he did 72 minutes as well.

Looking ahead, other teams might look at trying the same sort of style as Saints but you can only do that if you have the players to do it. That’s the crucial thing.

Going back a few years to 2016 and 2017, that’s what we were at Hull FC; quite big, strong and powerful and we played to our strengths.

We used that to our advantage but you have to have the right personnel.

That will be the challenge. You can’t do it if you haven’t got those players. Salford do it a different way.

They throw the ball around a lot as that’s obviously where they see their strengths and they tried to do that on Saturday night.

It’s finding a style that best suits you but as long as the personnel doesn’t change at Saints I can’t see the way they play changing in 2020 when the new coach comes in to replace Justin Holbrook who now heads off to Gold Coast Titans.

Everyone knows what Saints are going to do but, still, it is a different task trying to stop it.

They are worthy champions having finished the season 16 points ahead of their nearest rivals and are far and away the one team that has stood above everyone else.

Rightly so they will go into next year with an ‘X’ on their head as they are the ones that everyone else in Super League will attempt to chase down.

No doubt, there will be plenty of Saints players in the Great Britain squad for the tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea when that is announced later today.

Going off what Wayne Bennett has done in the past, going right back to selecting State of Origin Queensland teams for instance, I’m not expecting too many shocks from the GB coach.

There is almost a sense of loyalty from him; people who have performed well for him in the past sometimes he takes away their current form and he will pick people he trusts.

I don’t really see that changing with this 24-man squad.

We’ll probably see the majority of familiar faces with maybe the addition of one or two who have been outstanding this year.

If you asked 100 people what their GB team would be I don’t think there would be massive difference between them all.

There’s been some obvious stand-out players.

The interesting one will be around the halves looking at how outstanding Jonny Lomax has played this year and with Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings in the running as well.

I just hope we don’t go down that route of picking players out of position; I hope we see players who excel in that one spot and get selected there.

Ultimately, that’s what works and performs best on the biggest occasions and there’s no bigger occasion than pulling on the Great Britain jersey for the first time in such a long time.

Whoever he picks, let’s get behind him and the Lions and help get the job done as it should be a fascinating series.