Challenge Cup final 2021: Kristian Woolf praises St Helens’ hunger to keep winning trophies

Kristian Woolf hailed the hunger of his St Helens side to keep chasing trophies after they added the Challenge Cup to their recent Super League triumphs.

The back-to-back Super League champions fought back from six points down at half-time to beat Castleford Tigers 26-12 at Wembley on Saturday afternoon, lifting the trophy for the 13th time in the club’s history and the first time since 2008.

Saints are well in the running to make it a league and cup double this year and head coach Woolf, whose first season in charge in 2020 yielded Grand Final glory, believes there is still more to come from this squad.

“I think this group have earned so much already,” Woolf said. “You cannot forget they won Super League in 2019 and 2020, and now they have done what they have not been able to do for a long time and won the Challenge Cup.

“They are certainly writing their own story and it’s a terrific one, and one thing which is exceptional about the group is even though they have had so much success and achieved so many things, there’s a real hunger in the group.

“They showed that in this final, but they had to really draw on everything they had to fight hard and get some win under some really tough conditions. The biggest challenge we had this year was we had the hunger and it’s a special kind of hunger you have to have to win championships.

“To win the game the way we did shows this group has still got that. We have got a long way to go, but one thing I would do is back this group to keep achieving because they are an exceptional group.”

Woolf acknowledged his side had to do it tough against Castleford at Wembley, where they found themselves 12-6 down after taking the lead through Theo Fages’ early try and could have been further behind had it not been for some immense defence towards the end of the first half.

Tries from James Roby, Tommy Makinson and Kyle Amor along with Lachlan Coote’s goal-kicking saw St Helens move clear of the Tigers after the break even though they were affected by injuries during the game.

One of those was Fages, who left the field at half-time with a suspected shoulder injury, and Woolf praised the French half-back for playing on for as long as he felt he could before being replaced by Jack Welsby.

“It was obvious he was not quite right in the first half and he’s tough,” Woolf said. “He tried to carry on, but we were certainly under a bit of duress there and had to do it tough.

They’re certainly writing their own story and it’s a terrific one, and one thing which is exceptional about the group is even though they’ve had so much success and achieved so many things, there’s a real hunger in the group.

St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf

“If there’s one group you want to be involved with in that sort of situation where you have got to fight for things and be really tough it’s this group, and they have shown that plenty of times.

“I cannot praise Theo enough for his toughness to stay out there making tackles and keep trying. He scored the first try and he had the problem really early and battled through it.

“He made the right decision at half-time and felt like he was letting the group down and could not do his job, and we had Jack Welsby on the bench. As Jack has done plenty of times, he did an outstanding job and he’s an outstanding kid.”

A restricted crowd of 40,000 were in attendance for the final, the biggest at a rugby league game in the UK since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and Woolf was delighted his team were able to celebrate with the St Helens fans who made the trip to Wembley.

The 46-year-old Australian also hopes those from the town are proud of the efforts of his side.

“They are an exceptional group of men,” Woolf said. “They just keep turning up, keep finding ways to win and they do it tough whenever they are asked, and they can do it pretty at the same time.

“I get the impression the town is so proud of them and they should be because the way they keep turning up and putting their bodies on the line. That’s exactly what you want in your footy team and that’s exactly what we saw in the faces of people at the end.

“The fans were outstanding and being able to walk around at the end and hear the songs they were singing and the look on their faces, that’s what the players really enjoy and want to put the show on for.”

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