Former NRL fixtures Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote have said the perfect farewell to St Helens and helped guide the Super League champions to a third tie with an exciting big final win over the Catalans Dragons.
- Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Australian coach Kristian Woolf celebrated another title for St Helens
- Naiqama is on his way back to Australia, which has now spent three years in the UK
- Coote is also leaving St Helens and signing to play with Hull KR from next season
Former West Tigers star Naiqama was the player of the match on Saturday after scoring the Saints’ two attempts in their gripping 12-10 triumph at Old Trafford.
The Australian back Back Coote, a cult figure in St Helens who, like Naiqama now wants to leave the club, was a stone in the defense and contributed two goals as he also made it a hat trick of titles.
It was also a landmark night for Kristian Woolf, the Saints’ Australian coach, who has led them to ‘threepeat’ – the first time the achievement has been achieved since Leeds Rhinos in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
“I’m extremely proud, they are a special group,” Woolf said after the match.
It was an emotional night for Fiji captain Naiqama, who is on his way back to Australia after three years in the UK.
He has admitted that difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular having to witness the birth of his first child on FaceTime had been an important part of his decision to return home.
The 32-year-old made all the difference in a tough dogfight in a grand final and struck decisively in each half in front of 45,177 fans in the ‘Theater of Dreams’.
The Saints had to overcome adversity after the first big last sin-binding of winger Tom Makinson, and the Catalans’ Mike McMeeken touched in the second half after a fantastic kick by Australian Josh Drinkwater to help push the French side 10-6 ahead.
Still, center Naiqama, who had scored a striking solo effort in the 12th minute, won by grabbing Jonny Lomax’s pits for 65 minutes and plowing over while taking a blow to the head.
“I was so sorry to get a knee in the back of my head – it’s a little swollen, but it’s going well,” Naiqama smiled.
Coote, who joins Hull KR in the Super League next season, kicked the conversion to complete the scoring.
Naiqama received the Harry Sunderland Trophy as the match player from former winner Rob Burrow, who is battling motor neurone disease.
“Thank you for everything you have done in the game. You are a true legend of the game,” Naiqama told the former Leeds hero.
“I’m just so overwhelmed right now by emotions. I love this group, I love this city, I love this team. I’m just so proud and still can not quite believe we won it.”
For Australia’s Catalan hero Jimmy Maloney, however, it was an anti-climatic end to his distinguished career at the top level.
The 35-year-old, who has won and lost NRL Grand Finals, kicked three goals to become the oldest scorer ever in a Super League final, but was sighed: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, defeats in grand finals do still so painful. “
His Perpignan-based team had dreamed of becoming the first French side to lift the biggest prize in the European rugby league, and 1,000 Catalan fans had traveled above-but inevitably they were completely outnumbered by the Saints’ supporters.
Not even a statement of support from football legend Eric Cantona could help the Dragons as Woolf’s side completed their league and Challenge Cup double after their Wembley victory in July.