Kristian Woolf hailed the “best team in the Super League era” as St Helens (5/2 Betfred Super League 2023 Outright) claimed an unprecedented fourth straight Betfred Super League title with a thrilling 24-12 Grand Final victory over Leeds Rhinos.

On an evening bathed by storylines, with Woolf set to depart and Leeds waving goodbye to stalwarts Liam Sutcliffe and Tom Briscoe, the champions secured more Old Trafford success thanks to tries from Matty Lees, Jon Bennison, former Rhino Konrad Hurrell and Mark Percival.

The League Leaders’ Shield winners hit the ground running, scoring the fastest try in Grand Final history as Lees went over after just three minutes.

Tommy Makinson added the extras and did so again for Bennison’s score as the 19-year-old latched onto Jack Welsby’s grubber kick in the corner.

Finding themselves 12-0 down, Leeds slowly came into the game and got a deserved try when on the back of an inspired break from Zak Hardaker, Kruise Leeming went over.

Rhyse Martin converted to make it 12-6, but Saints restored their 12-point advantage lead just after the break when Hurrell capitalised on his team’s early pressure to bundle over.

Welsby’s boot again had its say as he found Percival to dab down, and with Makinson converting, Woolf’s side looked pretty at 24-6.

To their credit, Leeds did not give up, and Martin, the Rhinos’ best player on both the night and throughout the season, gave the Yorkshire club hope with a score nine minutes from time.

However, there was to be no grandstand finish as Saints held on for a record-breaking ninth Grand Final victory and their first win over Leeds at the Theatre of Dreams, having lost their previous four Old Trafford meetings.

Having become the first coach to win three Grand Finals in a row, Woolf now heads home to Australia, where he will take up an assistant coaching role at the NRL new boys, the Dolphins, ahead of the 2023 campaign.

First, he will be looking for success with Tonga at the World Cup (12/1 Outright) and reflecting on his time in the Betfred Super League, he said Saturday’s victory was a tribute to his squad, who he described as “outstanding”.

“These boys play at a different intensity to the rest of the competition, and they don’t get enough credit for what they do,” he told the BBC.

“They are an outstanding group, and they deserve all the accolades they have got. I think it closes the debate on who is the best team in the Super League era.

“I’m not saying you can compare players and rosters, but results speaks for themselves, and they are the one thing you can compare.”

For Leeds (6/1 Betfred Super League 2023 Outright), it was ultimately disappointment at the end of a remarkable campaign in which they have been transformed from relegation candidates to title hopefuls since coach Rohan Smith took charge in April.

Captain Leeming was defiant after the match, believing the Rhinos will only come back stronger from their Old Trafford heartbreak.

“We’ve fallen short, and it’s not nice, but we’ve come a long way, and we should be proud of ourselves even if it’s hard for me to say that,” the hooker told the BBC.

“We’ll be back, and we’ll win. We know the plan works and can take confidence from that.”

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