Holbrook departs on a high as Saints claim Grand Final glory

By Christopher Devine at Old Trafford 13 October 2019 4
Holbrook departs on a high as Saints claim Grand Final glory

St Helens gave departing coach Justin Holbrook a fitting send-off at Old Trafford, beating Salford Red Devils 23-6 to round off a dominant campaign with a Super League Grand Final triumph.

The Red Devils - 150-1 outsiders at the start of the season - were hoping to secure a fairytale victory after defying all expectations in 2019.

However, Ian Watson's men could not produce the greatest upset of all as Saints more than atoned for their shock Challenge Cup final defeat to Warrington Wolves in August.

Under Holbrook, who succeeded club legend Keiron Cunningham in 2017 but will now return to the NRL with Gold Coast Titans, St Helens have romped to the League Leaders' Shield in successive seasons, losing just three games this term.

They were eliminated in the semi-finals last year but there was no denying the competition's standout team on Saturday as they deservedly earned a sixth success at Old Trafford and their first since 2014.

Salford did well to only concede two tries in a frantic opening 25 minutes as their defence was repeatedly tested by the pre-match favourites.

Saints, for whom front-rowers Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley excelled, had already threatened several times when a fine set, starting with a trademark Tommy Makinson break from deep, ended with Morgan Knowles going over from Walmsley's short pass.

The pressure on the Salford line intensified following that score and St Helens crossed again through Zeb Taia after James Roby had caught Salford napping, scooting down the blindside from a scrum before producing a glorious, spinning pass inside.

Lachlan Coote converted both tries, yet the Red Devils belatedly burst into life, to the delight of their raucous support.

After Tui Lolohea had seen a fine individual effort chalked off for obstruction, Jake Bibby took a ball from Man of Steel Jackson Hastings to slide over on the left, with Krisnan Inu adding the extras.

Jack Ashworth was perhaps fortunate to escape sanction early in the second period after clattering Inu with his shoulder and then leaning his head into the wing on the floor.

Soon after, Saints were two tries clear again as Mark Percival skipped infield and put in a perfectly weighted grubber kick that he was able to dive on to himself.

That seemed to take the wind out of Salford, who found themselves further behind when Gil Dudson's high shot on Luke Thompson allowed Coote to kick a simple penalty.

By the time Coote landed another two-pointer with nine minutes left, Saints knew they had done enough to end Holbrook's tenure on a high, and Makinson rounded things off with a late drop goal.

Salford's stunning season has won them many admirers, but the biggest prize proved just beyond them.