AFTER the great 70s team of Pimblett, Mathias, Benyon, Mantle, Coslett, Nicholls and Chisnall had been broken up, Saints had found it difficult to rebuild.

It meant the rugby league balance of power shifted to Widnes and the two Humberside clubs, with Saints going seven seasons without a whiff of a cup.

They were hard times for Saints’ loyal fans who had become accustomed to seeing silverware – but coach Billy Benyon was able to carry on the work of predecessor Kel Coslett in bringing some quality young players through.

St Helens lads Neil Holding, Barrie Ledger, Steve Peters, Chris Arkwright, Andy Platt, Paul Round and Roy Haggerty now complemented relatively older headed ball players Graham Liptrot and Harry Pinner. They could play some fine football – but always seemed to come up short in the big games.

That was until they signed Mal Meninga for one season. Although he only played 31 games – by the time he had left, Saints had broken their trophy drought and crowds at Knowsley Road had shown a significant rise.

Meninga’s signing had been made possible by the lifting of the import ban the previous year.

It made for an interesting league in 1984/85. Other clubs, namely Leeds and Halifax, signed a dozen Aussies but Saints, like Hull (Peter Sterling) and Wigan (Brett Kenny and John Ferguson), focused on quality rather than quantity.

Prior to Meninga’s arrival Saints had won their first two league games, but then lost at Bradford and champions Hull KR.

But on October 7, 1984, a new chapter in Saints’ began when Big Mal thundered through for two tries in a convincing 30-16 victory over Castleford. The 7,500 gate may not look fantastic, but it was double the previous home crowd.

Three days later a five-figure gate saw Saints book their place in the Lancashire Cup Final with a win over Leigh. In that game it was Saints’ other Aussie – Phil Veivers – who stole the show.

Benyon’s men were on a roll and in six-match unbeaten October they brushed aside Hunslet, Halifax and Oldham playing some majestic rugby.

The crowds were up and the town walked with a collective spring in its step.

It wasn't a one-man effort, but because Big Mal attracted the opposition's attention it was creating extra room for the other players like the fleet-footed Ledger or Arkwright to really turn it on.

Saints lost the toss for the final and despite the heavy drizzle over 26,000 rolled up for the Lancashire Cup’s first Sunday final.

Saints’ first half display went like a dream with Mal Meninga scoring two and creating one for Sean Day, which combined with a blockbusting effort from Roy Haggerty, gave them a 24-2 half time lead.

Wigan hit back in the second half but Saints held on to claim their first trophy win since May 1977.

Meanwhile Saints marched on through November undefeated although they needed a replay to see off Bradford in the John Player trophy All seemed rosy when Saints demolished Leeds team at Knowsley Road with Pinner and Arkwright to the fore.

The match had been quite close until he last 20 minutes; then the men in the red chevron simply tore them to shreds, winning 48-16 with a wonderful brand of flowing rugby.

Unfortunately, the Saints bubble was unexpectedly pricked in the John Player Trophy three days before Christmas by Halifax’s collection of then largely unknown Australians led by player-coach Chris Anderson.

Saints’ feeling of invincibility had slipped, with Wigan taking full advantage at Knowsley Road on Boxing Day.

Although Saints got back on the horse at Widnes with a New Year’s Day win, a bad winter set in with thick snow bringing sport to a grinding halt.

The snow had barely cleared when Saints suffered further misery with a home knockout by Hull KR in the opening round of the Challenge Cup.

After such a glorious start, the wheels had come off the Saints wagon and the relatively patchy form continued into spring.

However, Saints put in a late flourish sparked by a wonderful televised win over Hull The try of the match saw Neil Holding, Phil Veivers, Barrie Ledger, Steve Peters and Big Mal combine to send Sean Day in at the corner.

Saints mid-term blip meant they just missed out to Hull KR to the title, but they were bang on form for the Premiership.

A comfortable win over Widnes in the first round was followed by a storming 37-14 win over newly crowned Challenge Cup winners Wigan in the semi. It gave Big Mal one more game on the big stage - the Premiership Final at Elland Road.

First half tries from Gary Ainsworth, Phil Veivers, Barrie Ledger and Meninga’s first interception of the afternoon from a David Hall pass ensured that Saints went in at half time in front.

The opening stages of the second half saw Rovers test the defence, but crucially it did not flinch an inch. Then came that pivotal moment – when Meninga latched on to another Hall pass before steaming three-quarters of the length of the pitch, holding off Fairbairn for a crucial try.

It broke the Robins’ resolve and Harry Pinner sold an audacious dummy to score by the posts and then the flying Ledger grabbed his second, sparked by Neil Holding, to seal the 36-16 win.

Big Mal’s all too brief stint a Knowsley Road will always be remembered – he earned his Sainthood!

But there were plenty of local lads who did their bit to make 1984/85 such a memorable season.