Kevin Brown's rugby league talking points: The stories behind St Helens' Super League triumph and the return of Great Britain
By Kevin Brown, Super League player
Last Updated: 14/10/19 3:26pm
Kevin Brown is back with his latest talking points, looking back on St Helens' 23-6 victory over Salford Red Devils in the Super League Grand Final.
As well as reviewing the game, Brown delves into some of the personal stories from Saints' players which helped drive them to achieve a first Grand Final win for five years.
There is a look at why his new club Salford have reason to be excited despite coming up short at Old Trafford, plus the England international on the return of Great Britain to the international stage and what to keep an eye on at this weekend's World Cup Nines...
Saints too good for Red Devils
I was at the Super League Grand Final on Saturday and, ultimately, Salford came up against St Helens side who were relentless from the kick-off.
I thought if the Red Devils could stick with Saints for the first 20 minutes they'd have a chance, but I heard an interview with Justin Holbrook afterwards where he spoke about how good his team had been, statistically, in the last 20 minutes of games this year.
That just shows the effort and energy you use to contain such a rampaging team, and it takes its toll. That's what happened on the night and Saints were just too good - I don't think any other Super League team could have beaten them on Saturday night.
After the game, you could see the emotion pour out. I was lucky enough to speak to a few players in the middle of the post-match celebrates and the collective story was about doing it for Justin Holbrook.
You could see how much they all love playing for him and the legacy he'll leave behind. In a relatively short space of time, he's turned them from being nearly-men to runaway leaders and being frighteningly good, so he's going to be sorely missed
The stories behind St Helens' success
There were so many individual stories which came out from the St Helens players as well. Jonny Lomax has had multiple knee surgeries and has lost two previous Grand Finals, so he was just overawed with the full emotion of it.
That was great to see, but then Alex Walmsley trumped it. He's come back from a broken neck, and do that and do what he does over and over again, putting his body on the line every game, is incredible.
I've been on the end of Alex Walmsley when he runs over the top of you, but I've also seen the collisions when he's taken a kick-off carrying, how hard he's running and when he's hit by another behemoth.
He's probably surpassing the performance levels he set before the neck injury and that's a credit to him and the character he has shown.
Then there's Kyle Amor, who was on the outside at the start of the year and missed out on the semi-final against Warrington Wolves last year when St Helens got knocked out.
He was down to play and he got told by Justin on the day. He was having his breakfast and was told he wouldn't be playing, which he was devastated about and said he didn't know if he'd actually play for Saints, let alone win his jersey back and be involved in another Grand Final victory.
He was saying how much it meant to him and the aspiration he had as a kid was to play for hometown club Whitehaven, and he never expected to do that. To go on to play for St Helens and win a Grand Final has just blown his mind.
After hearing how much they wanted it, and the multiple collective and individual reasons behind it, you can see why they've been the best team in Super League.
Thompson can be a superstar
Luke Thompson won the Harry Sunderland Trophy and he's now the cornerstone of St Helens' pack. People want to play with him, and he's going to lead the pack for the England and Great Britain teams.
He's going to be the Jamie Peacock or Adrian Morley for the current national team - he's that good.
He did 72 minutes straight in the Grand Final, and every one of his carries and tackles were full of power, intent and leg speed, and that's something which is a rare commodity in the front row.
Players have been able to do 80 minutes there before, but not at the pace and power Thompson does it. I genuinely believe he could be the best player - if not now, within the next few year - in the game and Saints are really lucky to have a local lad doing what he is doing.
He's sort of sneaked under the radar for a couple of years and you forget how young he was when he won the Grand Final in 2014, so he had that big-game experience at a relatively young age when he wasn't playing anywhere near the standard he is now.
I don't know where he goes from here because he is that good and he's doing it week in, week out. I can't think of a better front row in the world of rugby at the minute than Luke Thompson.
Positive signs for Salford
The most pleasing thing for me was how many Salford fans were there. Obviously, Saints travel well and they have done for decades, but Salford have had their problems with administration, poor seasons and turbulent times.
The fans have got right behind them, so I think that will have a lasting effect in terms of sponsorship and fan-base for next year, which is great.
For Ian Watson to recruit a squad he thinks can be a force in Super League, put a staff around it with people like assistant Paul Rowley and conditioner Greg Brown, then bring together a hard-working, quality side with an Australian half-back who had people questioning his character when he came over is a testament to his management.
The way he has got the best out of Jackson Hastings, who went on to win this year's Man of Steel, to lead his team is a story which we'll remember in 10 or 20 years.
A lot of people have joked with me and said I've got big boots to fill when I link up with Salford, but I'm really excited to be joining them at a time like this. The fans are excited, the expectations have gone up, and I don't want to go to a club, not perform and be at the bottom end of the table.
I want to be aspiring to replicate what they've done this year and go one better. That's my driving force now, so it's genuinely exciting to be a part of Salford and hopefully we can keep that wave riding.
Lions set to roar again
It's fantastic they've brought Great Britain back and maybe some of the younger lads won't realise how much history is behind the shirt.
I remember way back in 1988 when Mike Gregory went the distance against the Australians in Sydney and collapsed in a heap, and in 1994 when Shaun Edwards got sent off at Wembley and we went on to win that.
But one that really does stand out for me is the fight between Jamie Peacock and Willie Mason in 2006 in Sydney. Mason knocked Stuart Fielden out, and him and Peacock went at it as two superstars and monsters of the game.
The roar of the Lions came out that night and JP stood up for everyone in Great Britain. Then to go on and win that match in Australia is an iconic moment, and I'm sure there will be more from this winter's tour.
They'll get to play against Tonga, which is something every player involved and every fan at that game will never forget.
When I played against them for England in the World Cup semi-finals in 2017, the atmosphere topped the final and any other big game I've played domestically by an absolute distance.
They're very lucky and it's fantastic for the game we're going to get some Great Britain action in the off-season.
Skills on show in World Cup Nines
Before then we've got the Downer World Cup Nines in Sydney this weekend and that's going to be great for the growth of the international game.
I think it will be so spectator-friendly to watch. The speed, power, skill and fitness which will be on show in the Nines will be frightening.
I looked at a few who are going to playing and Australia's Josh Addo-Carr ran a speed of 38.5kph earlier this year, which is the quickest which has ever been run in the NRL or Super League.
To put that into context, there is player called Tariq Hill who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL and he ran the fastest-ever time for them in 36.6kph - so Addo-Carr is nearly 2kph quicker than anything in the NFL.
That's frightening pace in a big, open space which I would not want to be up against! You throw in some of the footwork from Kalyn Ponga and New Zealand's Shaun Johnson - and I think Regan Grace will go well over there for Wales too.
I've seen how good Blake Austin is in small-sided games in training at Warrington as well and some of the skill he'll show for England will be terrific. I'm looking forward to watching it and I think it will be fantastic.