15th December 2017, 10:53 | StHelens
Betfred Super League: 4th, semi-finalists
Ladbrokes Challenge Cup: Sixth Round
Top Scorer: Mark Percival (15)
2017 signalled a new era at St Helens as a poor start to the season cost Keiron Cunningham his job and Justin Holbrook came in and led the side to the Super League semi-finals.
Despite grinding out an opening night win over eventual champions Leeds Rhinos, Saints won just two of the next eight games in Super League.
With the club stranded down in eighth and no sign of a turnaround in form, Cunningham’s role as head coach was ended in mid-April.
Assistant coaches Sean Long and Jamahl Lolesi oversaw the first team in the interim and impressively led their side to a 26-22 win over Castleford Tigers.
But defeats to strugglers Widnes Vikings and Warrington Wolves were then followed by an early exit in the Challenge Cup, as they were hammered 53-10 at Castleford.
New coach Holbrook had now arrived in the country and his presence had an immediate impact as Saints pulled out a brilliant performance in Newcastle, to crush Hull FC 45-0 at Magic Weekend.
Six wins in the next nine, including the sensational comeback against Salford Red Devils, saw Saints cement their place in the Super League Super8s and by this stage, they were just a point off the top four.
The top four race would go right down to the wire in the Super 8s and they climbed into the play-off spots after another win against Castleford, this time at the Jungle.
However three straight defeats to Hull FC, Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors left them outsiders in the chase for the play-off spots.
But a do-or-die fixture at Wakefield Trinity saw them clinch the two points right at the end through Jonny Lomax.
Wins over Huddersfield Giants and Salford then ensured a semi-final meeting with Castleford, meaning Saints record of never missing out on the Super League play-offs remained intact.
In one of the most dramatic games Super League has ever seen, the old adage of ‘Never write off the Saints’ almost rang true again as they turned around a 20-10 deficit, with tries from Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival and Ryan Morgan, to lead 22-20.
However Morgan turned from hero to villain as he gave away a needless penalty in the dying seconds which allowed Luke Gale to kick two to take the game to extra time, and the rest, well, is history.
Since arriving in mid-May, the Australian has turned around fortunes at the Totally Wicked Stadium as a struggling mid-table side almost made it to Old Trafford.
The capture of Ben Barba could be a key addition as the full-back has the potential to be one of the big performers in Super League 2018, should he return to his top form.
Now 32, hooker Roby produced one of the best seasons of his career as went onto clinch the Players’ Player of the Year, Members’ Player of the Year and Player of the Year award.
One of the top tacklers in the competition, making 1,057 overall, Roby’s excellent form saw him selected in Wayne Bennett’s England squad and played a key part as his side reached the World Cup Final.
Although the 45-0 win over Hull FC at Magic Weekend was probably the best performance of the season, for sheer drama the home win over Salford has to be the game of the season.
Trailing 8-24 with just seven minutes to go, tries from James Roby, Regan Grace and Jonny Lomax somehow put the Saints level before Matty Smith landed an incredible 40m drop goal to spark delirium at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
If one try summed up Saints’ performance in this game, then it was the incredibly determined effort from Tommy Makinson.
He picked up the ball inside his own 10m line and just ran and ran and ran.