St Helens ended their five-year drought without the Super League crown, easing past the Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final by a 23-6 scoreline. The Saints were dominant throughout the campaign and they epitomised their term by storming their way to the championship.
However, the triumph was the end of Justin Holbrook’s time with the club. The Aussie had great success in his two-and-a-half years on Merseyside, reversing the fortunes of the team from mid-table battlers to champions at the end of his tenure.
Kristian Woolf now takes over head coaching duties with the pressure of having to maintain the high standards set by his predecessor. Woolf arrives with a fine reputation, having guided Tonga to the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup, defeating New Zealand and England in the process.
St Helens are still the leading contenders in the rugby league odds to win a second title on the bounce, although it will be a challenge now they are the team to beat. The last side to win successive titles was Leeds Rhinos in 2012, and that is the task at hand for Woolf to keep the Saints at the top of the pile, although he still has an incredibly strong squad of players at his disposal.
The club will be returning almost all of the squad that won the title last season. Outside of Holbrook there have been no major departures from the roster that has been outstanding over the last two seasons. The only question remaining will be whether they are able to maintain their imperious levels of play under a new head coach. Under Holbrook they were relentless in 2019, losing only three of their matches in their run to their ultimate triumph.
Surprisingly two of those defeats came at the hands of the London Broncos, who were relegated to the Championship. Despite those setbacks, the Saints were a model of consistency, producing elite performances on a weekly basis against the best sides in the league.
No display perhaps signalled their dominance more than their victory over Wigan Warriors in the playoff semi-finals, hammering their rivals 40-10 at Totally Wicked Stadium. It banished the demons of their defeat at the same stage in the previous campaign, establishing the mentality that helped them brush aside Salford in the Grand Final. Not only did St Helens produce quality rugby under Holbrook in 2019, they were also a mentally tough unit that was ready to grind out results.
Woolf has the talent at his hands to blow away average teams and the elite sides of league. With Tommy Makinson, Lachlan Coote, Theo Fages, Jonny Lomax, Regan Grace and Kevin Naiqama, there’s too much quality for them to fail. However, the questions will be whether they are able to close out tight games and remain a cohesive unit. That’s the difference between great teams and ones that fall short. Holbrook formed an imperious side that conquered the Super League with their all-round play and it will not be an easy task to replace that level of dominance.