In the 1978 Challenge Cup final he was in the St Helens team which lost 14-12 to Leeds, but won the Lance Todd Trophy. The voting for the Lance Todd Trophy took place after 70 minutes when St Helens were leading 12-5. Leeds scored 9 points (2 tries, a goal and a drop goal) in the last ten minutes to win the match. Several journalists said that if the vote had been at the end of the match they would have voted for the Leeds player John Holmes. That year Nicholls was also voted the best player in the Rugby Football League Championship, claiming the second-ever Man of Steel Award.