Super League Grand Final: Justin Holbrook's St Helens reign ends on a high

By Phil CartwrightBBC Sport at Old Trafford

Justin Holbrook said he was left feeling "satisfied" as his reign as St Helens head coach ended with a Super League Grand Final win at Old Trafford.

Saints beat Salford 23-6 to win their first title since 2014.

That victory gave Holbrook the perfect farewell before he returns to his native Australia to take charge of Gold Coast Titans in the NRL.

"To be able to deliver that trophy was two and a half years in the making," said the 43-year-old.

"Since the day I got here, I've loved coaching this side.

"I thought I'd be a lot more emotional at full-time, but I think I was just proud and privileged to be in this role and for the boys to have delivered the trophy."

Saints finished top of Super League by a record 16-point margin after 29 regular-season games and were crowned champions at Old Trafford after play-off semi-final defeats in each of the previous two seasons.

Holbrook added: "We all know that we've fallen short in the past couple of years, so it's probably been two and a half years of work in progress to get to this stage.

"To know how much rugby league means to the town, and to deliver the trophy back to them is what makes it so special.

"I feel satisfied. If we hadn't have won tonight, it would have been a real hollow feeling.

"There's never an easy time to leave, especially when you love the area. I'm really happy for everyone."

Justin Holbrook, James Roby and Luke Thompson with the Super League trophy
Justin Holbrook (centre) led St Helens to the Super League title in his final game in charge

Holbrook's reign 'brought to fitting end'

St Helens have been a club transformed since Holbrook became head coach in May 2017.

Saints were languishing in mid-table when the Australian succeeded club legend Keiron Cunningham, and they conceded 53 points in a Challenge Cup thumping at Castleford in the game before he took charge of the team for the first time.

Under Holbrook, Saints have won successive League Leaders' Shields, were runners-up in the Challenge Cup earlier this season and have now clinched the biggest prize in English domestic rugby league.

Captain James Roby said: "We're all sad to see him leave but it was great to cap it off in that manner.

"It's a chapter in Justin's coaching career and it's been brought to a fitting end."

Kristian Woolf, who led Tonga to the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup, has been appointed as Holbrook's successor.

Dejected Salford players
Salford reached their first Grand Final a year after avoiding relegation through the Qualifiers

Pride in defeat for Red Devils

Salford were among the favourites for relegation at the start of the season, but have provided one of Super League's greatest stories in reaching the Grand Final for the first time.

They fell just short of the unthinkable, but Red Devils head coach Ian Watson was full of pride for his side's achievements and how they have united their city during the past few months.

"It's amazing, it's probably bigger than just getting to a Grand Final," he said.

"It looks like the boys have got people to fall in love with their rugby league club again in Salford.

"Hopefully it can help to build the club from the ground upwards and build a foundation, like Saints have got, where you can bring young kids through, take them to a Grand Final and build on that.

"Hopefully we can keep some of the supporters that have got behind us at the back end of this year, they can keep coming and we can build a proper team."

Several of Salford's Grand Finalists, including their Old Trafford try scorer Jake Bibby and Man of Steel Jackson Hastings, are moving on to new clubs in 2020.

England internationals Dan Sarginson and Kevin Brown are among the players who have been brought in already, as Salford look to build on their fairytale season.

"We're really excited with the group that we've got for next year," Watson added.

"We'd love a couple more players to be able to kick on so we can make sure we are competing at the top end of the table, because it's no secret that a lot of those players are leaving and some influential players who will leave big holes.

"It's up to the players who come in to fill those."

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