Sydney Roosters defeated St Helens 20-12 to take the World Club Challenge title for the second year on the bounce.
Our man Nigel Wiskar watched from the stands as the NRL champions beat their Super League counterparts.
He looks at the shining lights in the gloom, stares at sequins and salutes a wonderful pub – visited all in the name of research.
The Cricketers Arms isn’t much to look at from the outside, its faded sign swinging in the wind as rain gobs down from a leaden sky.
You’d never stumble across it either as it sits lonely and isolated on the fringe of an estate on the outskirts of St Helens town centre.
But push through the grey front door and you enter a different world. Punters are two deep at the bar, everybody’s chatting, the blackboards showing a wealth of interesting beers, some from their own Howzat brewery.
There are a couple of ales from the Harrogate brewers Rooster’s on the board too. It’s fitting, given a 25-minute walk away the Sydney Roosters are in town for the World Club Series.
The Cricketers was national pub of the year in 2017. Rightly so.
But that town centre has taken a few knocks since I grew up here back in the 1970s with vacant shops sitting like rotting teeth between the pound bakeries, charity stores and vape outlets.
At the stadium sponsored by one of those vape brands, the local economy is thriving with two noticeable queues forming over an hour before kick off.
In the gloom beneath the statue of Keiron Cunningham, people gather as a man sells programmes with his lad, in a Saints top naturally, taking your four quid.
It’s the last print programme the club will ever produce, something that boy’s generation with their obsession with screens are to blame for.
The souvenir edition cover is a beauty, though the Saint to the left of the trophy appears to be affecting some kind of John Inman hand on hip gesture.
Better keep it away from Israel Folau.
Nearby they are queuing out of the club shop. Two men already clad head to toe in the club’s gear swipe various shirts from the rails and lay them over tattooed forearms. I swear they are speaking Russian.
The size four Steeden in club colours which leaves with me is later chucked around the concourse at Lime Street Station, with my lad spinning it to drunken fans and bemused red-faced blokes heading out for more grog.
At the ground there are more queues through the turnstiles for beer and pies and a pre-match buzz growing as the occasional Roosters fan strolls through the ranks of red-vee wearers.
Their club is terrifying in the warm-up. Set-piece drills move from slow, slow to blindingly fast in a heartbeat.
The passing is perfect, inventive and in between sets, more like a basketball routine, at times quite mesmerising.
One of those Rooster’s beers in the Cricketers was called Mind Games and when the Saints team is read out, the selection of Mark Percival in the squad seems to be just that.
Percival needs an operation and won’t play, leaving a left edge already without Regan Grace looking palpably toothless.
James Bentley is a second row but has started at hooker the last three games and tonight finds himself in the centres with Matty Costello his winger.
Roosters are without three of the four best players from their NRL Grand Final winning team with Cooper Cronk retired, Lattrell Mitchell moving to neighbours Rabbitohs and Kangaroos skipper Boyd Cordner rested.
But these NRL sides are like a shark’s mouth. One tooth falls out but there’s always another one sitting behind ready to slot in and draw blood.
There’s James Tedesco at full-back. I watched his debut on the hill at Leichardt one broiling Sunday afternoon in 2012 and from that game, where his season ended with an ACL tear, he has recovered and progressed to be the game’s most dynamic player.
Credit to Saints then for keeping him quiet this February evening. Those radar-dodging zips through traffic are muted.
But Saints can’t cut the head from every snake and despite opening the scoring and dominating field position and possession, you sense the Sydney club are just waiting to strike.
They do first when those long hoop shot limbs of Tupou almost touch his toes to take an imperfect pass to go over.
Young halfback Luke Flanagan takes an interminable time lining up the conversion and finds woodwork. Something he will do again later after a similar tedious routine, jerking his haunches like a toddler that has soiled his pyjamas.
Flanagan doesn’t scare you but alongside him Luke Keary does. He’s small but infuriating, like all good half-backs, and his passing range is a joy to watch.
But Saints have his equal if not superior in Jonny Lomax.
Theo Fages is terrific too, busy, biting, buzzing. But Lomax is sublime.
That mid air skip then launch, the passes, the surges at the line all chosen at the right time, always effective.
But with Bentley and Costello on his edge it’s like fitting a bazooka with foam bullets. Those two are game and will score on a soggy Sunday in Yorkshire. But they’re facing bigger names and bigger frames tonight.
Lomax must start at six for England against Cordner’s Kangaroos later this year. There are other candidates, all up to the task, but he’s a rare gem, an uplifting player who would thrive Down Under on those flatter summer tracks.
The biggest frame of them all out there tonight is superb too.
Alex Walmsley often sucks in three tacklers such is his bulk. Every run takes casualties.
And Saints try, keep pressing, keep feeding Lomax in the hope one splitting pass will stick.
But when Tommy Makinson drops a ball he would take 99 times out of a hundred you sense tonight is not their night.
Sure enough, as readers of my age will testify from a lifetime of watching Test defeats to Australia, these swines always sting you with brilliance.
One break, one moment and their passes do stick and they’re in under the posts. Game over.
The crowd ploughs out, filing along a dark corridor next to Tesco, muttering about the ref with the occasional white Roosters shirt breaking the gloom.
On the platform of St Helens Central station a young woman in a short, sequinned party dress shivers and swears as the rain continues to come down.
She’s clutching a large, orange bottle of Lucozade. Men in bobble hats stare in bewilderment at her summer sparkle lighting up this grim night.
It’s a distraction from the inevitable. The Aussies have done us again.
But bring on those Kangaroos at the end of the season. And bring on Jonny Lomax.
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