SAINTS fans have been joking about getting the same Christmas present three years in a row – posting pictures of their three champion mugs from 2019, 20 and 21 side by side.

Winning never gets boring – and Saints fans can relive another fantastic year with the double disc DVD that captures the triumphs at Old Trafford and Wembley.

We will all have our own favourite moments from 2021; the year of the three-peat and double and Saints women's clean sweep.

But here are my magnificent seven highlights from 2021.

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1. Mark Percival's return.

When a player gets a bad injury – one that recurs and niggles – it is easy to have doubts as to when they will return or even whether they will ever be the same player.

The players themselves must feel that more than most – whether you are a Paul Sculthorpe, Jonny Lomax or Mal Meninga.

So when that player defiantly roars back, putting an injury-plagued year behind them, we all share their joy.

Mark Percival did just that in 2021 – scoring on his first game back in the Super League opener against Salford and after a well-managed opening few weeks of the campaign he was soon firing on all cylinders.

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That old finishing prowess was there, underlined by the try from half way at Warrington or the fine brace he scored in the semi against Leeds. The tough but classy Widnesian certainly knows how to dive for the line.


But equally important have been his early set hard carries which gets the defence back-pedalling to tee up the Saints attack.

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2. The fans return.

Rugby league is a spectator sport and there is a special bond between the Saints club and the supporters who follow through thick and thin.

During the first lockdown, when games returned behind closed doors, it was a privilege to be in the stadium reporting from the press box, but it just was not the same.

This was especially true of the 2020 Grand Final – a very special moment in Saints’ history that the fans had to watch from their living rooms.

So having the fans drip back, admittedly in limited, balloted numbers at first, was important.

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After months of walking to the ground in silence, without the pre-match pub brief and analysis from fellow fans in the Cricks, it felt so special to be walking over the Steve Prescott Bridge in the footsteps of others once again for that first game with the fans back against Salford in mid May.

The songs, shouts, wisecracks and the sheer heart and soul that supporters bring to games had been sorely missed.

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3. Challenge Cup winners.

Despite all Saints’ success of recent years, the Challenge Cup trophy that had been a permanent fixture at Knowsley Road for three years from 2006 had suddenly proved elusive.

A succession of semi-final defeats and a surprise final loss in 2019 had made winning rugby league’s oldest trophy like the pursuit for the Holy Grail.

You could see how much it meant to seasoned players like Jonny Lomax, Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor to win this for the first time.

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It meant so much, too, to chairman Eamonn McManus – who jigged with delight after the final hooter. So many ghosts were finally laid to rest with that triumph over Castleford.

When you have a bloke like Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook saying he has seen his Millwall football team win at Wembley, but never tasted success there with Saints then that truly puts it into perspective.

A couple more things sprung from that Wembley success. The previous year, when young Jack Welsby won the Super League title with the last play of the game, there was always that slight possibility that it could possibly go to his head.

Not one bit of it. And if one game underlined that focus, it was Wembley.

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Displaced to the bench, but still willing to play anyhwhere, super sub Jack replaced broken shoulder victim Theo Fages in the halves at the interval and helped Saints overcome a first half deficit.

Who could forget that moment when the ball hit the deck, with Welsby instinctively knowing what to do in a chaos play. Scooping up, veering right to bamboozle the Tigers defence before picking out the perfect pass for Kevin Naiqama to send Tommy Makinson in at the corner. And Saints were back in front with a lead they would not relinquish.

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It has seemed like an absolute age since we had one – but how good was it to see the town pour out on the streets for the open-top bus homecoming?

4. Lewis Dodd at 7.

The talk all year had linked champion number 7 Theo Fages with a move away from the club – one of the effects of the salary cap.

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Saints always seemed relaxed about it either way - and now we can see why. Fages’ injury before and during the cup final did present teenage Widnesian Dodd with the opportunity to show he was ready to take on that shirt. And boy did he take it.

Dodd had been dripped into the 17 with brief roles off the bench, but in his first game at 7 – away at Wakefield – he gave a taste of things to come, using his pace, agility and eye for the gap to grab a cheeky half back's score.

He possesses those scrum half skills in abundance – an astute kicking game and an ability and confidence to call the shots.


But there were a couple of moments that stood out; the hack on, chase and pass off the floor that sent Lewis Dodd steaming over for his hat-trick at Hull and the audacious ball-steal try at Wigan. A special talent who is strongly backed to grow into the big job in front of him.

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5. Wigan Away.

With Covid scuppering plans to get away in August – I had to settle for a busman’s holiday. It was worth it, joining the fans in the back row of the away end at Wigan for the first time in 20 years. Noisy it was, too, with Saints fans in good voice from beginning to end.


There were plenty of times spent in the away end at Wigan in the 80s and 90s were the results were not always kind.

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Seeing a fine performance, capped off by Big Al charging over for a try in front of the Saints hordes, laid a few Central Park ghosts from decades past to rest.

6. That Morgan Knowles Grand Final tackle.

Big signings are great, when they are announced in a blaze of glory and go on to do what Paul Newlove, Jamie Lyon and Lachlan Coote do in the red vee.

But it is even more pleasing seeing one grow from an academy player and mature into a world class player.

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The 25-year-old Barrovian is a classic example; a genuine loose forward who can hit with real venom but has the ball playing skills of traditional 13s like Knocker Norton and Harry Pinner.

The one tackle that stood out came in the 26th minute of the Grand Final, with Dragons threatening before Knowles tracked back from the middle to knock the stuffing out of wing Fouad Yaha with massive hit.

He probably had no right to get across there – but that underlined the spirit and willingness in the camp.

7. The Three-peat.

Saints have had some legendary teams over the decades; whether going back to Dougie Greenall and Alan Prescott, evolving into that of Vinty, Murph and Voll – then coming up to Messrs Sculthorpe, Long, Cunningham, Joynt and Wellens in the stars of Super League.

None of those ever managed to win three titles in a row. It underlines what a special crop this class of players are – or have been. The same winners may be boring for some, and the word Three-peat will certainly grate on our closest rivals and noisy neighbours as much as it does the English grammar police.


But it is a worth recognising that this is a reward not simply for the skill and endeavour of the players and the planning and tactical nous of the coaches, but rather the whole structure of the club laid down this past decade.

Maybe it is a blueprint all clubs should aim to follow across the board for the good of the sport – and not simply try to emulate success by throwing cash at it.

Note: These are not a top seven, merely a selection of favourite moments.

Please feel free to leave your own favourites - and there are plenty to pick fromacross both the men's and women's teams.

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