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A YEAR TO REMEMBER: How Saints hit opposition for six in glory year
SAINTS and their supporters have enjoyed some special times over the decades – and invariably the most momentous of years have ended with a number six.
The 1956 side was the first one to win the Challenge Cup, the 1966 one took all four cups and beat Wigan at Wembley, the Dad’s Army team of 1976 rolled back the years with one last hurrah beneath the old twin towers and Bobbie Goulding and co were the inaugural summer era double winners in 1996.
And then there was Daniel Anderson’s grand slam winning class of 2006, who staked their claim as one of the teams to be put up there on a pedestal as one of the rugby league’s dominant forces.
Saints won every domestic honour that season, both team and individual, and to reinforce their utter dominance they only lost four games over the course of a gruelling season – none by a margin of more than four points.
And with that level of respect accrued it was no wonder that the men in the red vee shocked middle England later that year by being voted BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year.
- SUBLIME: Jamie Lyon, scoring in the Challenge Cup final, illuminated Super League
Looking back on that year in a soon to be released book reflecting on that momentous season, coach Daniel Anderson said: “In 2006 we sensed it. We had a crackerjack team – and we knew it too.”
It was – starting at number one with Paul Wellens in his absolute pomp, slaughtering the individual honours that season by lifting the Man of Steel and the Harry Sunderland.
Up front they had the most formidable of front row units, a choice of five prop forwards who all offered something different – with Kiwi international Jason Cayless, veteran heavyweight Paul Anderson and the seasoned Nick Fozzard complemented by the youthful James Graham and the explosive impact of Maurie Fa’asavalu.
At half back the Saints had the masterful Sean Long pulling the strings, allowing Leon Pryce to inject himself into the game to devastating effect.
The team under Anderson made ‘defence, defence, defence’ their mantra, but not at the expense of their attack.
- EMERGING STAR: James Graham showed the potential that has made him one of the world's great prop forwards
- DEFINING IMAGE: Who can forget this memorable picture of Jon Wilkin - his face bloodied and bandaged - celebrating a Challenge Cup final try with Paul Wellens
Saints had strike weapons galore across the park – and any conversation about the 2006 season invariably switches immediately to the sublime skills of ace Australian centre Jamie Lyon; the man with that magic ingredient, that special X-Factor, his swivel of the hips, step and then flick out an audacious offload to a grateful Ade Gardner.
But the achievements of Anderson's class of 2006 were about much more than the classy contribution from the Saints’ second Wizard of Aus.
There are so many other iconic images from that campaign still so vividly engrained on the memory.
Take Jon Wilkin sporting a bandage to stem the blood flow from a badly broken nose, blowing a kiss to the crowd after scoring his second try in the Challenge Cup Final win.
Seeing Paul Anderson provide the coup de grâce against Leeds by calmly hoofing over a touchline conversion, before turning round to see the Popular Side going absolutely doolally.
And how many snapshots of sheer brilliance did Long provide, particularly in his dominant cup final display which saw him win the Lance Todd Trophy for a record breaking third time?
And who could forget Vinnie Anderson creasing Wigan’s Danny Tickle in half with that thunderous tackle, and then stand over him triumphant like a victorious gladiator? Great imagery from an outstanding year of achievement for the men in the red vee.
WAR DANCE: Maurie Fa’asavalu leads the victory celebrations
In 2006 the stars aligned for the Saints.
“The team took advantage of a great roster, great support from front office, good coaches, brilliant players and tremendous support from the fans,” said Anderson.
“There are going to be teams that go through history that are remarkable – and it is the best year that I have been involved with in a professional way; the best team I have ever coached in my career, even though I have enjoyed all the teams I have coached. But you are going to get special teams and special moments. Everyone is going to say, ‘I remember that year!’
“I loved my time at Saints and you always look fondly back at the memories you have. They are great memories.”
As Good As It Gets – The Story of St Helens’ Grand Slam Class of 2006, written by Mike Critchley and published by Vertical Editions, is due to be released on June 21.