SAINTS loose forward Morgan Knowles has had quite a year already with a new deal, a switch to England and a second appearance in the Dream Team.

But the prize he really wants is tonight at Hull’s KCOM Stadium where Saints will be seeking to back up the title for the first time since 2000.

And if they were to do that, particularly against bitterest foe Wigan, Knowles reckons it would put this crop of Saints up there with the legendary squad of 2006.

But there is a lot to do before then, and Knowles – tipped as a future club captain – is level-headed enough to know what a gruelling, tough, tense 80 minutes awaits.

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But the industrious and skilful Cumbrian backrow, who scored the opener in last year’s Grand Final, is relishing that.

Knowles said: “We have got the right two teams in the final, it is first versus second, and I think it is a fitting end to the season that we have had.

“The Wigan game last time out was such a tough one and the sort that I love to play in.

“I love the physicality – and you are obviously going to get that with a Saints v Wigan derby. With it being a Grand Final it will add a little bit of spice to the mix.

“You would expect a similar game in the final, it will be close and physical, and all will be going for it.

After leading the table throughout August and September, the depleted team were pipped at Salford which made the last meeting between Saints and Wigan was effectively a League Leaders Shield decider.

That Saints came unstuck that day, stung the players and the club – especially as it cost them the significant prize money that goes with it.

“We were disappointed not to get three League Leaders Shields in a row,” Knowles said.

“It massively stung us losing that and we knew that who won that last League game would go on and win the shield.

“To lose to Wigan – who were better than us on the day and deserved to win – was very disappointing.

“The League Leaders Shield is hard to win and we would have only been the second Saints team to have won it three times in a row, so that was disappointing.”

But that disappointment is behind them for now – maybe reduced to being additional motivation for the blood and thunder that is about to unfold in Hull.

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Knowles and those other 16 players, will be on a mission to take out the big one and indelibly etch their names in St Helens folklore – as the team that triumphed in this most challenging of years and in doing so backed up.

“Good teams win Grand Finals but great teams keep doing it and back it up,” said Knowles.

“That is something we definitely want to do.

“I want to be a player from those teams you talk about from years gone by, like the 2006 team. I want this group of players to be thought of up there with those teams.

“But it is Saints v Wigan, top v second, and we want to go back to back winners and there is nobody they would rather beat than us.”

The one disappointment will be the absence of supporters, something the players fully take on board.

“We will miss the fans - it is tough for the fans.

“To some of them it is everything to watch Saints at the weekend – and it is the pinnacle of some people’s years to watch us go out and play a final,” Knowles said.

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It has been a challenging year for everyone, with Covid wreaking havoc across all walks of life.

The pro rugby league players have been no different, and have had to cope with the new normal of regular testing, stringent routines, pay cuts and playing before empty grounds.

When everything was shut down in March, following Saints defeat at Castleford, there was an understandable degree of uncertainty.

But the individuals and teams that knuckled down most in their time out appear to be the ones who were best equipped when the whips started cracking again in August.

Knowles explains: “The training on your own in a field and then in a crew of six down in Billinge was tough, trying to keep motivated but I think all of the lads really knew that the Grand Final would be at stake at the end of it and that is what we were pushing for.

“It was hard to understand what was going on because nobody had been through this before and know what was going to happen.

“This year we have learned to crack on with whatever gets tossed up, whether that be who we are playing, times changing of games and the changes and challenges that came with the season restart.

“All the changes and differences become the norm. After a week of something new, like getting tested at the start of a week, it becomes normal and you get used to it.

“It has been different, even things like wearing masks in team meetings, and I will be glad when it goes back to normal.

And even though there have been multiple changes, to rules, fixtures, venues and even the play-offs themselves – the fact that the year is going to reach a conclusion with the integrity of the competition preserved must come as a relief.

“Everyone aims for a Grand Final at the start of the year and this is a nice end and something to look forward to after such a strange and difficult year,” he said.

It is a game that will bring the curtain down on some glorious careers – on both sides of the pitch and Knowles expressed his privilege to be on the park for this encounter.

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“James Graham is a legend of the game, the club and he is a legend bloke as well.

“That is an extra little incentive for us, to see him off with a fairytale ending,” he said.

“Also, the lads like Dom Peyroux, Zeb Taia, Joseph Paulo are moving on – we want to give them a farewell too.”

The curtain comes down on an opponent who he could well be being lined up to replace long term in the England ranks – Sean O’Loughlin.

Knowles – as one young 13 to another – expressed his admiration.

“I have looked up to Lockers since I was a little lad,” he said. “Looked up and admired him – to be able to share the field with him on the couple of occasions that I have it has always been a pleasure.

“He is a top player.”