JUST where do the years go?

The 2019 Super League season started last week and at the launch Ellery Hanley was unveiled as the head of the new way of voting for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.

20 years ago he was even more central to the action in a turbulent season.

THERE had been no such thing as a tranquil off season ahead of the 1999 campaign with the sound of Ellery Hanley’s new broom sweeping through Knowsley Road corridors making sure of that.

Hanley, a man who had been Saints’ chief tormentor in that all conquering Wigan side of the late 80s and early 90s, had been brought in to restore discipline to a side that had gone off the rails for 18 months since winning the Challenge Cup.

The new boss made personnel changes, too, bringing in four new players.

Although giant Australian prop Phil Adamson flopped and was back at Manly after just three matches, Saints struck gold with the other three.

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Kevin ‘The Beast’ Iro, Above) who had terrorised Saints during his younger days at Wigan, came to Saints looking for a swansong at the age of 30.

Big-hitting Sonny Nickle returned from Bradford to restore some steel to the Saints front row and Halifax's Samoan Fereti Tuliagi, who started off on the wing, became a powerful impact player.

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Tuilagi (above) would go on to become a real cult hero on the terraces with the club shop cashing in by selling ‘Freddie wigs’.

Saints had already begun to adjust to life without Bobbie Goulding , who had departed the previous July, with Sean Long pairing up with Tommy Martyn.

There was early disappointment in the Challenge Cup and after defeating Hunslet in the opening round, Saints fell at the second hurdle losing 24-16 at Leeds.

The Super League had been expanded to 14 teams with the addition of outpost expansion club Gateshead and newly promoted Wakefield.

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And that campaign started promisingly with Saints storming through their opening nine matches undefeated.

Among the highlights of that opening run was the Easter period with a 14-12 Good Friday triumph over Wigan, in what would turn out to be Saints’ last win at Central Park, being followed by the 58-14 thumping of Bradford.

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Anthony Sullivan (pictured) flew in for a hat-trick against the Bulls, roared on by a 15,042 crowd.

Defeat finally came on May 14 at the most unlikely of places – Saints being pipped 23-22 by new boys Wakefield in the strange surroundings of Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium.

Saints looked as though they had got back on the horse with a run which featured the then customary walloping of Warrington – beating the Wolves 57-20.

But in June Saints hit a horrendous run – starting at McRae’s Gateshead Thunder but including defeats by Wigan, Bradford and London.

This poor run, coinciding with the outspoken Hanley giving an interview which described the board as “arrogant and rude” after pressing claims for team strengthening.

Hanley was suspended with Nigel Ashley Jones and John Myler put in temporary charge.

The team responded to the hullabaloo by thumping Hull Sharks 74-16 while the fans reacted by a mass protest at the game, occupying the ground long after the final hooter.

It quickly became a very messy situation as the club’s football manager Eric Hughes – the man who had arguably put the building blocks in place ahead of Super League – harshly became the focus of abuse for some.

The fans backed Hanley to the hilt with the protest being the catalyst for the formation of the Independent Saints Supporters Association (ISSA) - an organisation that would have a positive impact going forward.

The protests forced the board’s hand and they were forced to re-instate the coach and it seemed to do the trick.

Wing Chris Smith grabbed a hat-trick as Saints defeated Challenge Cup winner Leeds at Headingley as they began a six-game winning run which ended at home to Gateshead.

Ex-boss McRae made it a winning return to Knowsley Road, with the Thunder ending Hanley’s second Saints honeymoon to complete a double.

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They were never likely to win the next game either, with Saints being Wigan’s opponents for the last ever game at Central Park before the bulldozers moved in to clear the place for a new Tesco.

Saints ended the 30-game regular season with a 25-16 win over a Bradford side that had already secured top spot – that match saw the arrival of a new recruit in Sean Hoppe and saw them secure second spot for the play offs.

Saints finished the regular season in second spot, with 23 wins from 30, a point ahead of Leeds - but five points behind the leaders Bradford.

The play-off system in 1999 was again on a top five format and it started with a shock. Fourth-placed Wigan’s decision to take their sudden death eliminator against Castleford to the new surrounding of the JJB Stadium backfired, with the Tigers pulling off a 14-10 triumph.

Meanwhile Saints eased past third-placed Leeds in the qualifying play-off to set up a meeting with Bradford.

Saints knew they would have a second bite of the cherry, and that showed as they folded 40-4 to give the Bulls a week off and an easy route to Old Trafford.

Saints would get there a week later by beating Castleford, the conquerors of both Wigan and Leeds, 36-6 to make the final.

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Saints were not given much of a chance in front of what was then a Grand Final record crowd of 50,717.

It was a tight, tense affair that producing talking points aplenty - starting with the red vee warm up tops.

A special Henry Paul try broke the deadlock on 19 minutes – sliding over despite the superb cover tackle from Sonny Nickle.

Sean Long was still recovering from popping his AC joint and so coach Ellery Hanley decided to keep him out of the opening exchanges.

Long came off the bench to kick Saints’ only points of the first half as Saints went in trailing 6-2.

Although it was low scoring, there were talking points and Bulls’ Leon Pryce had a try disallowed after the video ref adjudged Michael Withers to have knocked on in the build up.

It was one of those contentious moments that is still debated now.

And so 15 minutes from time it was left to big game player Iro to force his way over in the right hand corner.

The nerveless Long stepped up to stroke the conversion between the uprights to give Saints a two-point lead.

And from then on in Saints simply tackled and tackled to keep the Bulls at bay.

At the end of the nerve-wracking 80 minutes Keiron Cunningham looked as though he had scored as the hooter sounded, but the ref Stuart Cummings simply blew up.

It did not matter; Hanley had masterminded Saints’ first ever Grand Final win, but the storm clouds would not stay away for long.