IT may be a case of St Helens versus the world at the Betfred Super League Grand Final but that sits just fine with head coach Justin Holbrook.
The Saints go into the showpiece event at Old Trafford on Saturday as overwhelming favourites, having finished 16 points clear of next best side Wigan Warriors in the league phase and only losing three times in the competition all year.
Standing between St Helens and their seventh title, though, is the feelgood story of the sport in Salford Red Devils who have shocked the world in going from relegation battlers last season to grand finalists this campaign.
Ian Watson’s ‘side of misfits’, as star player Jackson Hastings fittingly described them, have been underdogs in every game they have played this year but battled against the odds time and time again to reach their maiden Grand Final.
🗣️ "I remember watching the 2014 @superleague Grand Final as a kid before I signed and I'm now excited to be there myself." 🏟️@ReganGrace5 on the mood in the camp after Justin Holbrook's final run through before the big one tomorrow. 🏆#OwnTheMoment pic.twitter.com/3xEiCu8cxg— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) October 11, 2019
Once again, come Saturday, Salford will be huge underdogs and Holbrook will be tasked with trying to spoil the party for those hoping for a fairy tale conclusion to the epic tale.
However, this is a position that the 43-year-old Australian loses no sleep over.
“I understand every neutral fan is going to go for Salford, I’d do the same, but at St Helens we’ve got a great fanbase and we know what we need to do,” said Holbrook, speaking at the Betfred Super League Awards, where he was named Coach of the Year.
“As a game, it’s a tremendous story. I think it’s fantastic for Salford to get to their first Grand Final, they’ve played great all year and I’m all for that.
“For us, we just need to focus on what we need to do. We’ve played well all year and we know that, we had good build-up to the semi-final and we played well there so we’re hoping to do that again.”
Salford’s narrative, however, is not the only plotline going into the biggest game of the season with Holbrook set to leave St Helens following the conclusion of Saturday’s contest.
He will join up with the Gold Coast Titans for the 2020 NRL season but first must embark on the biggest game of his coaching career.
Despite boasting an impressive 80 per cent win record and two League Leader’s Shields with the Saints, Holbrook is yet to toast the ultimate success of a Betfred Super League trophy.
Indeed, the motivation is strong going into the final with St Helens having lost two agonising play-off semi-finals in the past two seasons.
He added: “The last couple of years we haven’t been there [in the Grand Final] so it’s been really disappointing.
“Those disappointments are inspiring us. We’re there now and we’ve got a good shot at it.
“It’s not difficult at all to remind my players it’s just another game. The players want to win just as much as I do, we know Salford are playing really well and it’s up to us to play better.”
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