When he finally departs St Helens to return to Australia at the end of the current Super League season, it is difficult to imagine there will be anyone at the club who has not been influenced in some way by Justin Holbrook.
Mark Percival is just one person who cannot speak highly enough of the head coach for the impact he has made on both him and the team since first walking through the doors of the Totally Wicked Stadium two-and-a-half years ago.
Back then, Saints were stuck in a malaise which had led to club all-time great Keiron Cunningham being sacked as head coach, but the arrival of relatively unknown Australian Holbrook marked a turnaround in fortunes.
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St Helens are now just 80 minutes from securing a return to the Grand Final for the first time in five years after being head and shoulders above the rest during Super League’s regular season, and centre Percival is in no doubt about the effect Holbrook has had.
“He’s been brilliant,” Percival told Sky Sports. “It was like a breath of fresh air when he came in and it’s what he’s done for the club and each player, getting us playing to the best of our ability.
“I know he’s done that for me and since he’s come in I’ve probably played the best rugby I ever have done in the past two and a half years.
“I don’t think I was playing bad rugby in those years, I just think I’m more of a rounded player than I was a few years ago.
“Justin has improved every little aspect of my game and I always think before a game, working hard is the best thing you can do because you know all of the other skills.”
Percival is one of the members of the current Saints squad who was involved at Old Trafford in 2014 as they prevailed 14-6 over bitter rivals Wigan Warriors – the team they face in this Friday’s semi-final, live on Sky Sports.
That year had seen them claim the League Leaders’ Shield as well under the guidance of another Australian head coach, Nathan Brown, but the team did not kick on from there.
Despite reaching the play-off semi-finals again in 2015 and 2016, Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves proved too good for St Helens on those occasions and, in hindsight, Percival believes there was a key factor lacking.
“At the time, we weren’t playing as a team and it just wasn’t good enough,” Percival said. “We weren’t good enough as a team to compete for trophies.
“We thought we were, but looking back on it now I don’t think we were after 2015 and 2016. We got to the semis, but we never really gelled as good as a team to get to the final.
“Since 2017, we’ve done brilliantly to get back to where we are. The next step is to get over the line, get into a final and win.”
Although St Helens wrapped up the League Leaders’ Shield for a second year running at the start of August, it is performances in rugby league’s two major showpiece games – the Challenge Cup final and the Grand Final – which teams are judged by.
Last month’s defeat to Warrington at Wembley saw Holbrook denied his first major trophy as Saints boss, making Percival and his team-mates more determined than ever to ensure they go on to lift the Super League title at Old Trafford on October 12.
That would mark the perfect send-off for Holbrook, who will then turn his attention to trying to revive the fortunes of the NRL’s perennial strugglers Gold Coast Titans, and Percival knows from his 2014 experience what it takes to achieve a Grand Final triumph.
“I’ve been to one and won it, so no one can take that away from me and I think I learned a lot from it,” Percival said.
“That year, we were just so calm and collected even in the big games. You need to be calm and collected, and know what you’re doing in the big games and don’t go away from that.