2021 was a landmark year for Saints – one in which they completed a hat-trick of titles for the first time in their history.

To put that into context the teams of Greenall, Murphy, Vollenhoven, Karalius, Coslett, Long, Cunningham and Sculthorpe never managed that particular feat.

How Kristian Woolf’s side added the Super League title to the team’s first Wembley triumph since 2008 was based on a combination of a monumental collective effort, a rock-solid defence, some individual brilliance with the ball and a mental toughness that has been built off the back of big game triumphs.

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And to cap the club’s utter dominance, the women waltzed off with all three trophies up for grabs and end the year was not simply a product of 80 minutes some extra special moments of individual brilliance in the Grand Final.

After the tumultuous events of 2020, when Saints stormed back from lockdown to win the Grand Final with the last play of the most challenging of all post-war seasons, there were some great expectations going into 2021.

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Not least of those high hopes came from the fans, starved of live rugby since March 2020 and who watched every Covid update longing for restrictions to be lifted to enable them to take their place on the terraces once again.

On the pitch, there were a number of elements in the mix; but the big question focused on whether the hunger would remain as intense after two on the spin – especially given the price on the Saints scalp meant that everyone wanted it.

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Playing wise there had been changes with big prop Agnatius Paasi coming in for the retired James Graham and Sione Mata’utia and Joel Thompson replacing popular second rows Zeb Taia and Dom Peyroux.

Any concerns that 2020 match-winner Jack Welsby would led his previous year’s exploits go to his head were immediately dispelled, with his first class attitude shining through when asked to slot in at full back, wing, centre, stand off or loose forward.

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He would once again come up with the big-game play of the match when it mattered to add to his growing stock.

Another key aspect underpinning the 2021 effort was their resilience from the depth and versatility of the squad to cover some significant injuries.

It is too easily forgotten but Dream Team loose forward Morgan Knowles missed the opening seven league and cup games, Mark Percival was in and out as a precaution following his hamstring woes, Matty Lees broke his ankle, the unlucky James Bentley suffered a couple of bad ones, Joel Thompson saw his year so badly derailed that he called time on his career and Theo Fages missed the business end.

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In their stead, Welsby, Joe Batchelor and Lewis Dodd seized the opportunities to make the shirts their own over the course of the year.

With restrictions still in place on gatherings at the start of the season, Saints kicked off the year with a behind-closed doors 29-6 win against Salford at Headingley.

That game saw Paasi come off worse in a collision with the Salford heavyweight Pauli Pauli, with Percival’s withdrawal after scoring a fine try also causing a degree of concern. But it was simply a case of Saints erring on the side of caution with their international centre.

After dispatching Hull KR 25-0 in round 2, Saints’ attention then switched to the Challenge Cup where Leeds Rhinos provided some stubborn resistance.

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Although the cup holders had been shorn of half backs, they packed the team with big men and played a very direct game that challenged Saints despite them having Zane Tetevano dismissed.

Saints, who lost prop Matt Lees early doors with an ankle break, were thankful for the huge contribution from Paasi, who help shift the momentum after Leeds’ stifling holding down tactics had caused frustration.

The wins kept coming- at home to Wakefield and away at Huddersfield, with the scratchy one at Leigh marred by Bentley’s broken leg.

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It was unfortunate – Bentley’s tenacity and in-your-face doggedness had been a key element of Saints title-winning campaign in 2020. But in his absence, Batchelor would begin to consolidate his place having started the year flitting between bench and 13.

A Regan Grace hat-trick helped Saints squeak past Huddersfield 23-18 in the Challenge Cup, the Welsh wing taking Lachlan Coote’s cut-out pass five minutes from the end to have the last word.

With lockdown restrictions gradually easing the 4,000 members who were drawn from the ballot saw Saints see off Salford 28-0 on 17 May.

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How joyful it was to see and hear the fans on the terraces once again. Going the best part of 14 months with games behind closed doors had been both a challenge and an eye-opener; listening to the sledging, the plays being called and hearing the smack from high-speed collisions.

But the excited sound of ‘Oh when the Saints’ ringing out from the West Stand was music to the ears of all those who appreciate the relationship between the fans and the team they support.

A week later Saints succumbed to their first defeat of the campaign, a careless 20-16 loss against Catalans in Perpignan. Although it finished three tries apiece, Saints had left themselves with too much to do after a mix-up between Coote and Grace had seen them punished with a soft try.

It was becoming clear that the Dragons, inspired by James Maloney, were going to cross Saints’ path again before the year was out.

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The versatile Welsby, this time cropping up on the wing, grabbed a hat-trick in Saints’ 34-16 Super League win over Hull FC – a game that proved to be the hors d'oeuvres for the sides’ meeting in the cup semi final a week later.

In what was a triple header at Leigh Sports Village, Woolf’s men went on after the Saints Women had beaten York to lift the Challenge Cup.

The clash with Hull FC was a tense and incident packed affair, with Theo Fages’ try giving Saints a 14-2 lead at the break.

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That did come after Hull FC centre Josh Griffin had tossed the ball away after snapping his Achilles, sparking fury among the Black and White contingent when Fages played to the whistle by picking up and scoring. There was nothing else Fages could have done in the circumstances.

Saints looked comfortably on their way to Wembley when they led 20-2.

And when Fages chipped over a one-pointer to give the Saints a three-score lead, the coaches to Wembley were already being booked.

But in a rollercoaster of an ending, Hull retrieved the ball from a short kick off and rattled in two quick tries to cut the deficit to a mere three points.

After a 40/20, with the momentum was all with Hull as they pressed for the winning score. However, Jake Connor’s final pass on the Saints line was intercepted by Regan Grace who sped the full length for the game breaking score.

A further try added some gloss to the 33-18 scoreline, Saints had been given a fright – but they were on their way to Wembley.

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The dark cloud of Covid had not gone away – and three out of the next four games were lost to the effects of the virus, scratching games at Leeds and Hull KR. Saints were, however, awarded a 24-0 win when Castleford did not fulfil their fixture.

In a frustrating spell, Saints lost 6-2 at home to Warrington – with the numerous stoppages when the visitors doctor entered the fray proving disruptive to the rhythm when Wolves’ line was under pressure. It was an issue Woolf had raised before – and that is one of those areas that the game has subsequently looked to tidy up.

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Saints triumphed in their first meeting with Wigan since the Grand Final – a game that had been put back to 4 July in the hope that a packed crowd could have been housed.

Alas, a delay in the roll out of the relaxation of the social distancing rules meant that only 4,000 were allowed in to see Saints have it wrapped up at the break, adding one second half try to the 18-0 interval lead they had racked up.

The tricky week before Wembley game saw Saints overcome Wakefield at Belle Vue – a match noted for the solo try scored by Lewis Dodd in his first start as a Saints seven.

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Unfortunately for Sione Mata’utia, the match review panel picked him up on two challenges that scuppered his chance of playing in the Challenge Cup.

It was doubly cruel given that he would have been facing his brother Peter in the Castleford side.

There was no little pressure on hot favourites Saints, seeking their first Challenge Cup since 2008 – and just a little bit haunted by the defeat of 2019.

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Although Fages had given Saints a lead, after he chased up Jonny Lomax’s perfect kick to the posts to score, it was clear the French number 7 was not right.

A couple of wayward passes showed up that he was carrying a serious knock. A combination of a broken shoulder and a needle that had numbed too much meant that Fages was withdrawn at the break with Saints trailing.

Super sub Welsby made an inspired intervention. After James Roby had nudged Saints back ahead after the break, Welsby’s instinctive pick up and dart to the right set up a killer try for Tommy Makinson.

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A couple of Lachlan Coote penalties helped keep the scoreboard and the clock ticking over, with Kyle Amor crashing under the sticks to close it once and for all.

Saints had won the cup for the first time in 13 years and the fans lined the streets to greet the homecoming heroes.

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Alas, Covid reared its ugly head in the Saints camp striking off two home games against Hull KR and Huddersfield. They were fixtures in which Saints could have rightly expected a bit of a Wembley bounce through the turnstiles – but instead they ended up paying out refunds.

On their next outing, over at Hull FC, Welsby continued his affection for that particular stadium by grabbing a hat-trick in the 42-10 rout.

The highlight – and nod to the future – was the last one of those scores when Dodd hacked on a loose ball, fell on it to secure it, but still had the wherewithal to make it available for Welsby to race on to and storm over from half way.

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The future looked bright – and we would see more of that combination as the year wore on.

Saints saw off a youthful Catalans side at the TWS, but five days later succumbed to their first home defeat by Castleford in the Super League era.

They had been off their game, not helped by a series of indiscretions from Bentley – who was sin-binned with Peter Mata’utia.

Saints were further hampered by the dismissal of wing Tommy Makinson for a high tackle on Niall Evalds.

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But still there was hope, after Alex Walmsley had crashed over, but alas Coote’s final pass to send Kevin Naiqama in was instead snaffled by Greg Eden who raced the full length.

Saints soon picked it back up – and marmalised Wigan at the DW Stadium with 3,000 travelling fans cheering them to a 26-2 triumph.

There was a bit of niggle in the game, with Bentley and John Bateman being sin-binned, with Willie Isa also seeing yellow later in the game. Saints had all the aces, with highlights being Dodd’s audacious one-one-one steal for a try and Big Alex Walmsley crashing over in front of the Saints hordes.

As the year rolled on, had Walmsley stepped it up – building towards the year’s end.

After rattling Leigh, 42-12, Saints enjoyed a great night at the Halliwell Jones after coming from behind at the break to beat Warrington 24-14. It was the first time Saints had beaten the Wolves since the league game in 2019.

One highlight – and game-changer - was Mark Percival’s long-range try which came after Joe Batchelor had ripped the ball from Jake Mamo’s grasp, straightened up to gallop upfield before finding the England centre.

The classy Widnesian, who had put his early hamstring worries to bed, finished in style to send the travelling army into raptures and silence the noisy neighbours.

Another highlight was the partnership between Welsby and Dodd in the halves, which augured well for the future.

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So Saints bounced into Magic at Newcastle, and despite losing Bentley after falling victim to a crusher-type tackle from Sam Kasiano, bossed the Dragons.

They led 24-6 and then 30-12 entering the closing minutes – and then fell apart as the Dragons threw caution to the wind to rack up three late tries – including one on the hooter – to send it into golden point.

Makinson and Coote both missed with their pot-shots, before allowing Maloney to snatch it with a scruffy punt from near half way.

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It effectively handed the League Leaders Shield to the Dragons, but later on Woolf would credit the learning from that with helping them gear up for the Grand Final.

What was remarkable about the Saints crop of 2021 was their focus. Saints not only dealt with the injuries to Fages and Bentley, and the knocks that had forced Joel Thompson to announce his end of season retirement but the way that none of them were distracted by the contract talks and transfers.

This was a time in which Fages, Bentley and Coote were negotiating moves to Huddersfield, Leeds and Hull KR respectively – and in which Kevin Naiqama was weighing up his return to Australia.

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Naiqama revealed at the end of the season that the shocking experience of having to watch his wife Lily give birth to their first born via facetime from the hospital car park had been deeply traumatic.

This was a key factor in wanting to take his family home – but not once did the Fijian test skipper let that affect his game.

With the rampaging Walmsley totally dominant, Saints blasted Leeds off the park in a 40-6 victory and with second spot secured they sent a youthful team featuring a handful of debutants – Jon Bennison, Shay Martyn and Sam Royle - to Salford.

Unlike the top five system, which rewards a top-two finish, the top six essentially means it is a sudden death semi final.

But Saints were masters of winning the big games now – that monkey that had been on their backs from those big game losses in 2017/18/19 seemed buried.

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Saints eased past Leeds, 36-8 in the semi final to book their place at Old Trafford.

The back-to-back champions got hold of the game from the off, with big, aggressive defence rocking the Rhinos.

That, plus some quick, strong and direct running with the ball gave the Saints the perfect platform to take charge and secure a third consecutive Grand Final appearance.

As soon as Regan Grace raced in for the first of Saints' six tries, the writing was on the wall.

A couple of Lachlan Coote penalties and a James Roby try added to the score to put Saints in the driving seat.

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There was only one minor wobble, coming just before the break when Sione Mata'utia was yellow carded and the Rhinos scored their first try to peg it back to 14-4 at the break, but Saints swiftly re-asserted their ascendancy at the start of the second half.

A brace of tries from Mark Percival, one from Kevin Naiqama and Grace's second put the icing on the cake.

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So on it was to Old Trafford, with every neutral yearning for a new name on the trophy.

We had got a taste of that at Magic – when fans at Newcastle, from Warrington to Hull FC, joined in the cries of Cat-a- lan, Cat-a-lan.

Nobody expected a game between 1 v 2 to be a cakewalk, it was so, so tense – particularly heading into the last quarter of an hour when favourites Saints trailed 10-6 in a game of relatively few clear-cut opportunities.

But Kristian Woolf’s men, now masters of the big match pressure cooker, did what champion teams do.

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They held their nerve.

There was no wobble or panic; no players deviating from the script just as it was about to appear that the clock was going to become as challenging an opponent as the Dragons.

As the minutes ticked away and the tension showed on the faces of the large Saints following on the Stretford End, that opportunity came courtesy of a late shot from James Maloney on Lachlan Coote, two players saying farewell to their respective clubs, but only one of allowed to pen the dream ending.

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Saints played the whole set perfectly, even down to the fifth tackle carry by Alex Walmsley which was shades of the Chris Joynt drive to the line ahead of the 2002 winner.

With the ball now in the Dragons 20, the Saints brains-trust took over for the killer last tackle play with James Roby and Lewis Dodd shifting it for Jonny Lomax to dribble an angled kick for Kevin Naiqama to chase.

It was executed to perfection with the Fijian test skipper collecting and grounding, despite copping a knee to the head that rendered this second score his last act for the Saints. But what a way to sign off.

There was still business to do – not least the pressure kick with the wind swirling and the cacophony of noise coming from the Dragons fans – of both the Catalonian and day pass variety.

Lachlan Coote, who joined at the same time as Naiqama, slotted the ball between the aitches to nudge Saints ahead and deliver us from any drop-goal drama.

Job done. Not one bit, but we were about to witness just why this is a three-time champion team.

And at this very point the 18th man, hollering 'Come on you Saints' with as much volume as nerves would allow, stepped up.

Dragons, who had found the Saints’ defensively line to be pretty impenetrable all night, took to the air.

The tactic had already paid dividends in the 50th minute when Josh Drinkwater’s kick right had been tapped back for Mike McMeeken to score – but again they chose a similar route.

Halves Drinkwater and Maloney tormented Saints with their kicks chipped into the in-goal, forcing two goal-line drop outs and leaving them with three consecutive sets to defend on their line.

They shall not pass, was a vow they adopted, with Jack Welsby – on in the centre for Naiqama twice coming up with telling tackles. The second of those was sufficient to force the error and the siege – if not yet the game – was over.

It was period that epitomised the Saints brotherhood that the players talk about – each of them willing to go that extra mile to cover their teammate’s back.

The closing stages – no doubt with Magic lodged in the psyche – were again frantic, but a super Coote kick, played into touch by Tom Davies ensured that Saints had the ball and field position for most of the closing minutes.

Nevertheless, there was still incident, and a couple of big calls, with Makinson pinged for obstruction to hand Dragons one last go only for Tomkins to get done for not playing the ball correctly.

Saints saw the closing minutes home, with the Dragons dangermen kept well at bay and to ensure the word threepeat could be coined to grate on the minds of English grammar purists up and down the country.

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It had been a tough old match too, not short of niggle with Sione Mata’utia having a dig at Maloney after the kick early on in the piece.

The Saints packman, who grew into the year, showed plenty of punch and aggression in his carries and defence, may have subsequently copped a one-match ban, but he has added that degree of doggedness and an abrasive edge that champion teams

He is the Jason Hooper of this 2021 crop.

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Makinson was yellow-carded for the high tackle but there was no penalty try but while Dragons had a numerical advantage they hit the front with a McMeeken score.

After being denounced as chockers for a spell, this history-making Saints crop have certainly got the hang of this trophy winning now and who would back against them taking the run to four.

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That achievement will be indelibly marked there forever in the history books, maybe something that will jump out as a true golden era when fans look back.

This crop of players have contributed hugely to making this team such a formidable force.

In an era of salary cap and a so-called level playing field, the way this team has evolved from a team classed a big-match bottlers from Wembley 2019 to such an invincible force has been a remarkable transformation.

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Pictures: Bernard Platt