TWENTY years ago today Saints made history when they were crowned World Champions for the first time.

And what a night it was at a freezing cold Reebok Stadium where the men in the men in the red vee, superbly led by Captain Fantastic Chris Joynt, edged a thriller against Brisbane Broncos.

After the damp squib of the 44-6 mauling by Melbourne Storm the year before, nobody had given Saints much a prayer in 2001 when Wayne Bennett's Broncos flew in.

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After all the Broncos' roster, running out at Bolton, featured a who's who of world rugby league's biggest names.

Despite the names Darren Lockyer, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Shaun Berrigan, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and Gorden Tallis dripping off the announcer's lips ahead of the game, Saints had not turned up with their autograph books.


They were neither star-struck nor over-awed, and coach Ian Millward and assistant Harry Bryant had got their preparation bob on, with the finer details honed on the intense training weekend away at Club La Santa in Lanzarote.

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So skipper Joynt, ably assisted by deputy Paul Sculthorpe, led a team out that night that was primed, prepared and focused – and as importantly had real belief despite the doubters away from the immediate playing group and staff.

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And they did the business too, rallying from an 18-6 deficit to win the match with second half tries from Sean Long and Chris Joynt adding to Paul Sculthorpe’s earlier effort to level the scores.

Long and Sculthorpe banged over a couple of one-pointers and within days “St Helens – Home of the World Champions” was greeting motorists entering the borough from every direction.

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Reliving one of the greatest night’s in the club’s history Joynt said: “Saints had been written off after the previous year’s disappointing performance.

“I maintain to this day that when we walked out at the Reebok, only about 22 people really knew something special was going to happen that night.

“Nobody gave us a chance. We knew something amazing was on the cards because of our training. We were flying.

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“The game plan was not rocket science and there were little things we did well. One of those things was pinning Wendell Sailor down because he was one of those players who would try and fight you all the time. We knew how quick a team they were at playing the ball and building momentum.

“Every time he got the ball I had a ploy of gripping him and winding him up, knowing full well that he would want to fight me and as a result they would have the slowest play the ball.”

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Saints had something else on their side that night – and it came from above.

A calm, but cold night suddenly turned into a freak hailstorm – something that the boys from the Sunshine State suddenly did not fancy.

Joynt continued: “When the hailstones came Sailor turned to me and said, ‘What the hell is this?’

“They were used to swanning around Brisbane and that was a big factor in swinging the game.

“The hailstorm was the cue for our match-levelling try.

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“It was down my favoured left flank, Paul Newlove had gone through but he gave me an absolute shocker of a pass, which I had to reach around for.

“I tucked it under my arm and it was a clear run to the line, then next thing is Gorden Tallis came in late as I touched down.

“It winded me but I was not bothered because I knew I had got the all-important score.

“Even though there was quite a bit of time to play, they knew we had more or less got them.

“We knew they could score from anywhere – but that surge never came.

“I reckon that was testimony to our fitness and determination.”

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Everyone will have a memory from that night - maybe of full back Paul Wellens, then aged just 20, playing virtually the entire game with a shattered eye socket. Sculthorpe, who always loved a crack at the Aussies, was immense in attack and defence and Keiron Cunningham and debutant David Fairleigh were real giants in the middle.

But all contributed in Saints becoming World Champions – and although they would do it all again six years later in a carbon copy win against Broncos at Bolton the first time is always special.

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Saints: Wellens; Hoppe, Iro, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Long; Fairleigh, Cunningham, Nickle, Joynt, Shiels, Sculthorpe. Subs: Matautia, Jonkers, Stewart, Stankevitch.

Brisbane: Lockyer; Tuqiri, Kelly, De Vere, Sailor; Berrigan, Prince; Webcke, Priddis, Civoniceva, Tallis, Carlaw, Lee. Subs: C Walker, S Walker, Harrison, Meyer.

Picture gallery attached: All photos are copyright Bernard Platt