Saints end 2019 as Super League Champions, mirroring the success 20 years ago in our first Grand Final win back in 1999. We got in touch with Samoan powerhouse prop Apollo Perelini, a dual code international who won 2 Super League winners rings in his time at the Saints, and Kevin Iro – the Kiwi and Cook Islands centre who represented 3 Super League clubs in his stellar career. We asked the guys about the 8 points to 6 Grand Final Victory over the Bradford Bulls in 1999 – find out below what they remember from the build up, the game and what they’re up to these days.
We’d like to thank Apollo and Kevin for their time answering our questions – we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.
We’d lost to Bradford 40-4 a fortnight before the Grand Final – what changed? (e.g. was it preparation, performance, something else?)
AP: Our preparation and mindset had changed from losing 40-4 to a Grand Final. We always had belief…all we needed to do was to make the final and the rest would take care of itself. It’s not about form in Finals…it’s about belief and the mental state we were in. And we had that mindset that we were going to do it.
KI: We may have lost to Bradford by 40 prior to the final but every 80 minutes of footy is completely different to the next. We had a quality side and I know Bradford wouldn’t have taken their previous win over us as assurance of winning the final.
The week before the Grand Final – what was your build up like? Was it intense training sessions, tough work, relaxed, fun or a mix of both?
KI: I can’t remember training being different prior to the final.
Ellery Hanley always looked cool, calm and collected on the touchline but what was he like as a coach? What did he say to you pre game, did he do individual talks to you or just one as a group?
AP: Ellery was a great motivator and knew what got us going. He would always keep us calm under pressure because he never looked stressed. And that projected onto us, and therefore we didn’t feel so much pressure despite being in a Final.
KI: Ellery was as cool as he appeared. He did give me special attention at team meetings if I messed up haha! I’m not sure if it was because he didn’t want the team to think I was immune from getting a bollocking (because they all knew we were actually mates after our time together at Wigan & Leeds) or if he knew it actually did fire me up. Regardless, it was a standing joke in the dressing room. The boys really enjoyed those meetings at my expense.
You played in the 1996 Championship winning season and the 1999 Grand Final. Which was more satisfying as a player – winning the Championship for being the best team over a season, or winning the new showpiece final?
AP: The 99 Grand Final was very satisfying because everyone had written us off. Plus we had such a great belief in everyone around us. 96 was pretty cool too, because we were the first to win the Super League trophy, but it felt a bit low key as opposed to a massive event such as a Grand Final if you were to compare the experience.
After the relatively recent Wembley wins over Bradford did you feel we had the experience over the Bulls in regards to winning finals?
AP: Yes, winning over Bradford in Finals definitely gave us the edge going into Old Trafford.
What thoughts are going through your mind as you take the first run in in a Grand Final?
AP: The thoughts that go through my mind on my first hit up was…let’s go to work!!!!
We asked the following 3 questions to Kevin Iro – who gives a fantastically honest response. And it’s echoed at the end of Apollo’s next answer.
The fans knew we were playing in our teal and orange change kit, but when you walked out in the redvee tracksuit tops it created a buzz around the crowd. Did it have the same impact on the players?
We were 6-2 down at the break, what did Ellery say to you at half time?
The conditions on the day meant quite a few handling errors – including Michael Withers’ knock on. We’re 20 years on now – you can tell us – did he touch it?
KI: I’ve got to be honest – I can’t remember the details around many of your questions. In fact your questions have revealed more than I knew! I didn’t recall the jersey colour, what the half time score was or that Withers knocked on?! I don’t think I ever watched the game. This interview has inspired me to do that.
As the game went on Saints energy seemed to increased and Bradford’s dropped, as epitomised by Sonny Nickle and others stopping James Lowes from scoring. Was there a moment during the game when you thought “Bradford can’t get through our defence, we’re going to win this” – or do you keep those thoughts until the knock on inside the last minute?
AP: There are all sorts of scenarios that go through your head during the game and more so with minutes to go. But when you’re on the field and sucking up every ounce of oxygen out of the atmosphere…the mind often goes blank!
Was there a sense, when you went over to score in the corner, that it was going to be our night? Did you expect Long to nail the conversion?
KI: I do remember scoring the try and thinking we’d nailed it. Longy was always a big occasion player so I knew he’d slot the 2 points.
As the only try scorer in Saints first Grand Final victory, how does it feel knowing you will forever be revered and remembered by Saints fans for your contribution?
KI: I didn’t even realize that was the only try in the game and Saints first Super League Gran Final win? What an honour to be part of it!
What are you up to these days? Still involved in the game?
AP: I have been living in Dubai for the past 10 years after leaving Saints. I founded the largest rugby academy in the region (www.aprsa.com) and I am also the high performance director for UAE rugby. That’s rugby union haha!
KI: I’m an advocate for the Ocean. That probably sums up what I’m doing these days. I was coaching and managing league and union teams in the Cook Islands, but not so much these days. My sons play both codes so I’m mostly spectating.