Outgoing St Helens boss Justin Holbrook admits he is desperate to deliver a Betfred Super League Grand Final victory before he departs the Totally Wicked Stadium for the NRL.
The 43-year-old has transformed the Saints since being appointed in May 2017, steering the Merseyside club to safety in his first season, before guiding them to consecutive League Leaders’ Shields in the past two years.
An agonising 18-13 defeat to Warrington Wolves denied his side a shot at Grand Final glory in the last campaign, while the Wire delivered more heartbreak in this year’s Challenge Cup final, emerging 18-4 victors.
Amidst such disappointment, the Australian – who is set to join Gold Coast Titans at the end of the season - insists his side are more motivated than ever to overcome arch-rivals Wigan Warriors to earn a spot at Old Trafford, with the iconic stadium hosting every Grand Final since 1998.
And having finished 16 points above the league’s second-place side, as well as having beaten them three times already this year, Holbrook is confident his team are capable of getting the job done.
🗣️ "I hope it is my last game at the @twstadium because it means we will have won the game and be at Old Trafford. We want to get to Old Trafford and that is my focus." 💪— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 24, 2019
Holbrook ahead of the @superleague Play-off semi final with @wiganwarriorsrl on Friday! 👊#OwnTheMoment pic.twitter.com/TTGkMLtL22
“We finished the regular season so far in front that anything other than winning the Grand Final would be a disappointment,” he said.
“It would mean everything to me to win - I want it more than anyone.
“We’ve fallen short a number of times over the past couple of years, and until we go further it’s going to be lingering over our heads.
“Following the Challenge Cup final defeat, we had a week off, we cleared our heads and came back even stronger with three wins on the bounce.
“If we play like we’ve done all year, I believe we can win and get our rewards. But come Friday night we’re no longer 16 points ahead of them and we’re well aware we’ll need to be on our game to progress.”
Despite losing five of their first six Betfred Super League games in 2019, Adrian Lam’s Warriors recovered in style to claim second place and make Holbrook aware his side are in for a tough contest on Friday night.
SAINTS NAME 19 MAN SQUAD ⚪️🔴@aaronnn_smith comes back into Saints' 19 man squad in place of @mattcostello24 in the only change ahead of the @SuperLeague Play-off semi-final against @WiganWarriorsRL at the @twstadium on Friday! 👊— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 25, 2019
Read more ⬇️https://t.co/Yz3uO1rYUJ pic.twitter.com/ocSInROiis
The Cherry and Whites have won 13 of their last 14 league fixtures – their only defeat at the hands of the Saints in July.
And with a local rivalry set to spark a bustling atmosphere, overcoming the reigning champions will be no mean feat in their bid to reach the biggest night in Super League.
Holbrook said: “It doesn’t get much bigger than playing Wigan in the semi-finals, it means so much to both sets of fans and to both towns.
“The rivalry makes it that bit more special, but we’re well aware they’ve improved a lot, they’re playing very well at the moment and we’re going to have to perform well.
“I know Adrian very well and it’s a good, healthy rivalry between our two clubs. There’s a lot of respect between us and we know whoever performs better on the day will be the winners.
“I’m not fussed on the score line. As long as we do enough to get over the line, I’ll be happy.”
The Betfred Super League Grand Final is the biggest night in Super League and takes place at Old Trafford, the iconic home of Manchester United on Saturday 12 October (6pm KO). Secure your seat by visiting https://www.superleague.co.uk/tickets/grand-final