SAINTS kick off their Super League campaign tomorrow night at home to London Broncos.

Playing London will bring back memories of the role that game against Saints played in the first ever Super League when the sport switched to summer in 1996.

It was a tumultuous year - one that we are happy to recount here as part of our #ThrowbackThursday.

WIGAN’S dominance of rugby league in the late 80s and first half of the 90s was tough for the game in general but even more painful for a Saints side that seemed destined to carry on living in the shadow of their near neighbours.

Between 1988-95 the Cherry and Whites strung together eight consecutive Wembley wins, added league titles for fun and looked set to go on and on.

Saints, who had slowly but surely begun to assemble and, as importantly, retain a side capable of challenging, had other ideas from the outset of the new full time summer era.

A core of excellent players like Chris Joynt, Bobbie Goulding, Apollo Perelini, Anthony Sullivan and Scott Gibbs had been complemented by some youngsters with star quality - especially Steve Prescott and Keiron Cunningham.

The final pieces of the jigsaw were slotted in ahead of the start of the new 12-team Super League kicked off in 1996.

Centre Paul Newlove, the sort of strike weapon that would have been allowed to go to Leeds or Wigan in previous years, was delivered to Knowsley Road in the back of a Securicor van.

This was all part of the David Howes school of PR to make the most of the clubs calling card signing.

And that he was, with the ace in the left hand gang comprising Messrs Joynt, Martyn and Sullivan, crossing 36 times that year.

Off the field Australian Shaun McRae was brought in to build on the foundations Eric Hughes had patiently laid down.

The year started with the Challenge Cup – and the first real signs that this was indeed a bright new dawn came at the Willows.

Saints had thrashed Castleford in their first cup game and put a similar half century of points past Rochdale in the next stage.

But the loudest cheers at Spotland that afternoon were reserved for the announcement that Salford – a team outside of Super League – had inflicted Wigan’s first Challenge Cup defeat in 43 matches, a run dating back to February 1987.

With Wigan out of the way it immediately triggered hope that this could be Saints’ turn to get to Wembley and win it.

And indeed wins over Salford and then Widnes in the semi had Saints’ trip to the twin towers booked before the first ball of Super League had been kicked.

It set the Wembley stage for one of the biggest red letter days in Saints history where they took on a Bradford Bulls side that had embraced the summer era from the off.

Bullmania was in full flow – and Bradford had constructed their team around three of the players they had brought from Saints in exchange for Newlove; Bernard Dwyer, Sonny Nickle and Paul Loughlin.

What followed was the most spectacular of rugby league rollercoaster rides with two early Steve Prescott tries soon being cancelled out by the Bulls.

With 56 minutes on the clock the scoreboard made stark reading: Bradford Bulls 26 St Helens 12 – and the ghosts of Wembley 1978, 1987 and 1989 were floating around the stadium.

For a few moments the Saints hordes – the old guard and the newfound followers - looked at each other with shocked faces and sunken hearts.

It seemed a lost cause – no team had ever overhauled such a deficit, but cometh the hour cometh the man. Skipper Bobbie Goulding launched a bomb which Bulls full back Nathan Graham allowed to bounce….into the arms of supporting Cunningham who sprung up to collect.

The comeback was on – and Goulding did not deviate from the blueprint with similar pin-point bombs from the confident number seven yielding scores for Simon Booth and Ian Pickavance.

Saints were back in front and although Arnold and Robbie Paul swapped tries – Apollo Perelini settled it once and for all five minutes from time – Saints winning the Ultimate Comeback final 40-32 and their first Challenge Cup for 20 years.

The Saints were back and boy did the town celebrate.

Super League was launched in a blaze of glory in Paris where the hosts beat Sheffield Eagles beneath a shower of fireworks on a landmark night for the sport in March 1996.

Saints’ campaign started in more traditional and humble surroundings with a 62-0 trouncing of Workington in west Cumbria.

The game marked by Phil Veivers’ last try in his final game in the red vee after 12 years loyal service with the long-serving full back sold off to Huddersfield before the Challenge Cup Final.

Saints had made good noises in the short off season and had started tremendously well in the Challenge Cup which had kicked off the year.

The acid test on how well Saints were genuinely going to challenge came on Good Friday with the visit of Wigan.

The subsequent 80 minutes against a Wigan team still crammed with superstars would show that Shaun McRae’s Saints’ class of 1996 really did mean business. It looked like the same old story when Wigan went 16-4 up.

But we should have had more faith – with one of Danny Arnold’s three tries from an outrageous piece of play from Keiron Cunningham being the pick of the scores in the 41-26 triumph.

Derek McVey started it when he bustled through the middle before Cunningham took the offload on the half way with his weaving run outfoxing Kris Radlinski. Although he was caught on the line he somehow managed to flick the ball up for Arnold to collect and fall over.

Although Saints won the Challenge Cup on April 27, they were not content with just that one cup.

Saints were going to fight Wigan every inch of the way for the first past the post league title. And on the mud, grass and dust of Wilderspool, the Valley and Wheldon Road they won the sort of tight games where a flinch or blink of an eye would have proven so costly in previous years.

Saints were now made of sterner stuff. They had real steel in the pack and were well-marshalled by circus ringmaster Bobbie Goulding.

McRae’s men lost just two games in that 22-match season – away at Wigan and Bradford – but with the Warriors drawing at London it meant that Saints had to beat Warrington on that final day.

It was never in doubt with Saints whipping the Wolves 66-14 in front of an ecstatic 18,098 crowd to be crowned champs for the first time in 21 years.

It was a success that paved the way for all the successes to come.