t was a rough start to the season for St Helens, with their worst run for 27 years marked by a hasty exit from coach Royce Simmons and a quarter final Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of bitter rivals and newly crowned League Leaders Shield winners Wigan.
When Mike Rush, just 36, was appointed interim coach on March 19 he wasted no time in insisting that he didn't want the job full time - in fact, it was the following day that he acknowledged the fact that developing players is where his strengths lie and effectively turned down the job.
Rush was promoted from academy director to take over proceedings at Langtree Park following Simmons' exit and has certainly earned his stripes since. A quick look at St Helens' academy graduates, however, prove just how much he is needed there. Under Rush's leadership, England's Jonny Lomax and GB and England Hooker came through the ranks. Add to this locally sourced players Jamie Foster, Sean Magennis, Andrew Dixon and Lee Gaskell and it's obvious that Rush's conveyor belt of first team players is a well-oiled machine.
It would have been easy for Saints - especially after that historic losing streak - to write off the season as a bad one and wait patiently for new Head Coach Nathan Brown to come in from Huddersfield to save the day. As it happened, Brown didn't want to take over duties part way through a season and Rush and his assistant and ex-GB and St Helens hooker Keiron Cunningham were left to hold the fort.
Slowly but surely, St Helens have clawed their way back up the league table, so quietly that - to be honest - with of the hype around the race between Wigan and Warrington - I barely even noticed.
The wins haven't been spectacular and it's been much more of a marathon than a sprint but, where many may have written this off as a bad year, they're in with a real shout of a seventh consecutive Old Trafford appearance if they can perform in the play offs.
They've got all the makings of a side capable of going all the way - James Roby has made over five hundred more metres than Sam Tomkins this season, more carries than Josh Charnley and Sam Tomkins combined and is leading the runs from dummy half stats by over 250. Along with Lomax and Wilkin, it's just been announced that he'll retain his place in the England Elite Training Squad, so they've got threats across the park and it seems to be coming together. I remember watching their third league fixture this year - just as it all started to go wrong - where they drew 36-36 with Hull KR. It was like watching a side that had defence amnesia, a really sloppy performance and both team's strategy seemed to be just to attack and hope the other side couldn't defend but they've pulled it back, Rush has been able to rein it in and I have a feeling that, when he returns to his day job, he'll be sorely missed.
So what could stand in their way? Well, they've made it to third by winning the games you'd expect a team like Saints to win but they've been unable to edge it when it comes to Wigan, Warrington and Catalans. They have, though, twice beaten World Club Champions and Challenge Cup finalists Leeds twice and come pretty close against Catalans.
Saints would have to pull something incredible off if they're to make it through the play-offs and it seems that working through to finish third might be more of a hindrance than help. They've lost to Wigan three times this season and if that's become a demon they're in serious trouble as - the way the play-off system works - their next three fixtures could well be Wigan, Wigan and Wigan.
But this is rugby league - Leeds knocked Wigan out of the Challenge Cup and where I'm from, St Helens are notorious for their ability to claw their way back in a game and they've already done that in the table. Lets face it, stranger things have happened.