Comparing Super League's three-peat champions and determining who was better

By Ross Heppenstall

When St Helens beat Catalans Dragons in last weekend’s Grand Final, they emulated the great Leeds Rhinos side in winning three successive Super League titles.

The men from Headingley achieved the feat between 2007 and 2009 and now Saints have can lay claim to similar legendary status.

To win one Super League crown requires a monumental effort, to retain the trophy the following year takes a special kind of spirit and plenty of talent too.

But to claim an incredible ‘three-peat’ ensured Saints joined their old adversaries from across the Pennines in the realms of rugby league greatness.

But how do the sides compare?

Here, Rugby League Live assesses what Leeds and Saints achieved during their ‘three-peat’ years and the players who drove them to glory.

Trophies won

Between 2007 and 2009, Leeds won five trophies – three Super League titles, a World Club Challenge in 2008 and a League Leaders’ Shield in 2009.

The Rhinos could call themselves the best club side in world rugby league after toppling Melbourne Storm at Elland Road in a narrow 11-4 win.

Scott Donald scored their only try and man of the match Kevin Sinfield added seven points with the boot.

During St Helens’ past three glorious seasons, they have added to their hat-trick of Grand Final wins with a League Leaders’ Shield in 2019 and the Challenge Cup this year.

Victory over Castleford Tigers at Wembley in July saw rugby league’s oldest and most famous trophy return to St Helens for the first time since 2008.

Thus it makes it almost impossible to split the two sides on the silverware front - it is five trophies apiece.

The coaches

Intriguingly, both clubs changed head coaches during their ‘three-peat’ years.

Tony Smith left Leeds after the 2007 Grand Final win over St Helens to join the Rugby Football League.

Brian ‘Bluey’ McClennan stepped into his shoes and kept the blue and amber machine ticking over with two more Grand Final wins in the next two seasons.

Justin Holbrook performed a remarkable job at St Helens and kickstarted their hat-trick of Grand Final successes with victory over Salford in 2019.

Saints were remarkably consistent under Holbrook and won the League Leaders’ Shield by a whopping 16-point margin in 2019 – an all-time British rugby league record.

Yet Kristian Woolf has arguably taken the club to new heights in the past two seasons.

Saints have won two more Super League titles and also added the Challenge Cup to their bulging trophy cabinet.

St Helens insiders talk of how Woolf has given the team a tougher mental edge.

Winning percentage

St Helens have showed amazing consistency in recent seasons and indeed during the whole Super League era.

What sets them apart from Leeds during their ‘three-peat’ seasons is their greater winning percentage.

Between the 2007 and 2009 seasons, the Rhinos won 73.1% of their games in all competitions.

In Super League terms, they finished second in 2007 and 2008 and then clinched top spot in 2009.

St Helens sailed to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2019 and have been runners-up during the past two seasons under Woolf.

Incredibly, Saints’ have won 85.3% of all their games across the 2019, 2020 and 2021 campaigns.

That is some going.

Full-back

Brent Webb was nicknamed ‘Superman’ during his time at Leeds and played in their 2007 and 2009 Grand Final wins over St Helens – injury prevented him from playing in 2008.

Lee Smith stood in for him that year and enjoyed an outstanding game at full-back to win the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match.

Smith, a boyhood Leeds fan, deserves a special mention for scoring in all three of the Rhinos’ Grand Final wins during their ‘three-peat’ era.

But if you were choosing a full-back from these great Leeds and Saints teams, it would be difficult to look past Lachlan Coote.

The Australian has enjoyed three brilliant seasons in the Red Vee and bowed out in style with victory in last weekend’s title decider against Catalans.

He will now head to Hull Kingston Rovers but will be guaranteed a thunderous reception when he returns to St Helens next season with the Robins.

Wing

Scott Donald played in all three of Leeds’ Grand Final wins between 2007 and 2009 while Ryan Hall featured in the last two.

Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace have patrolled the flanks for St Helens in all three of their recent Grand Final wins.

Makinson, of course, will always be remembered for his pivotal contribution in the 2020 title decider against sworn enemies Wigan.

His drop-goal rebounded off a post and Jack Welsby, then 19 and the youngest player on the pitch, was on hand to score and decide the most dramatic Grand Final in Super League history.

Centre

Keith Senior was a terrific servant to Leeds and featured in all three of their Grand Final wins between 2007 and 2009.

Mark Percival has played in two of St Helens’ recent Grand Final wins – injury ruled him out of the 2020 victory in Hull – and been an outstanding player for the club.

The contribution of Kevin Naiqama takes some topping after the Fiji captain won his third Grand Final in as many seasons with Saints last weekend.

His performance against Catalans earned him the Harry Sunderland Trophy and the 32-year-old was overcome with emotion when presented with the award by Leeds legend Rob Burrow.

Naiqama will now head home to Australia to retire as a true St Helens legend.

Half-back

Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire played at 6 and 7 respectively for Leeds in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Grand Final wins over St Helens.

They were both brilliantly instrumental in the Rhinos’ golden generation and of course, played in all eight of the club’s Grand Final wins.

Jonny Lomax has been similarly outstanding for Saints during his career and featured prominently in all three of their recent title successes.

The England star has also shown no little mental fortitude to bounce back from some serious injuries and prove himself one of the best playmakers in the game.

Hooker

Matt Diskin was tough as teak and helped Leeds to four Super League titles in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

But for sheer longevity and talismanic influence, the impact of James Roby on St Helens has been truly phenomenal.

He played in his 10th Grand Final last weekend and collected his fifth winners’ ring. Nobody deserved it more.

Prop

Jamie Peacock is the most decorated player in Super League history after winning an incredible nine Grand Finals.

Three of those came during Leeds’ ‘three-peat’ and he would be one of the first picks in any imaginary line-up.

Kylie Leuluai and Ryan Bailey were also prominent in the Rhinos’ ‘three in a row’, as was Ian Kirke.

Alex Walmsley has enjoyed a brilliant season with Saints and confirmed his status as one of the best props in the world.

Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook deserves huge credit for his role in the club’s ‘three-peat’ – he now has four Grand Final winner’s rings in total.

So too does ever-reliable Cumbrian Kyle Amor, another Saints stalwart whose contribution should not be underestimated.

Second row

Jamie Jones-Buchanan served his hometown club with distinction for 20 seasons and was another key figure in the golden generation of homegrown stars.

He enjoyed remarkable success and longevity in the blue and amber and started in the second row in the club’s three in a row between 2007 and 2009.

Carl Ablett, at times unheralded, also deserves a mention for his contribution to the Rhinos’ ‘three-peat’ while ball-playing New Zealander Ali Lauiti’iti was a special talent who played his part at Old Trafford in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Zeb Taia was hugely influential in St Helens’ Grand Final wins in 2019 and 2020 before leaving at the end of last season.

Loose forward

Kevin Sinfield was versatile and could also operate in the halves and at hooker, but he played at 13 in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Grand Final victories over St Helens.

He won the Harry Sunderland Trophy in 2009 and went on to captain the Rhinos to seven of their eight Super League titles.

A staggering achievement for a man regarded as Leeds’ greatest-ever skipper, which earned him the nickname ‘Sir Kev’ by South Standers.

Morgan Knowles has risen to prominence for St Helens and lined up at loose forward in each of their past three Grand Final wins, impressing each time.

Three-peat Dream Team: Lachlan Coote; Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Keith Senior, Ryan Hall; Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire; Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Jamie Peacock; Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ali Lauiti’iti, Kevin Sinfield

Interchange: Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kylie Leuluai, Morgan Knowles, Jack Welsby

Coach: Kristian Woolf


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