It’s a happy end to an exceptional tenure as Justin Holbrook finally gets the major trophy he wished for.
On a night of fairytales, Holbrook’s dream ending to an extraordinary tenure triumphed. He has guided one of the most consistent Saints sides in recent history and his side’s on-field performance fitted the occasion, to a tee.
For Salford, whatever happened tonight, their achievement will live long in rugby league folklore.
Ian Watson has guided his hometown club to their maiden Old Trafford appearance, and in the process, turned a group of ‘misfits’ to Grand Final challengers.
“I think it has been amazing what we have achieved, we have made people fall love with Salford,” said Watson, speaking on how proud he is of what his side has done over the course of a terrific 2019.
It didn’t take long for Saints to turn on the style. From the opening stages, they raced away into a 12-point lead and didn’t look back.
Jake Bibby was able to get the Red Devils back into the contest just before half-time, but Mark Percival’s early second-half score put the final nail in the Salford coffin.
“I had to let it sink in, I am so happy and proud that we got the job done tonight,” said Holbrook, as he swaps the North West for the Gold Coast in 2020.
“We all know how good this season has been but until we went out and proved it tonight, we knew we had to deliver.”
Quick, fast and powerful, the recipe for destruction as Saints opened with purpose. After that demolition of Wigan just two weeks ago, confidence didn’t seem to be an issue for St Helens – who stormed the league winning the title by a record 16 points – not giving the opposition a sniff within the first 10 minutes.
Ian Watson said earlier in the week that defence would win his side the game and for the opening quarter-of-an-hour, they stayed strong.
All that early Saints pressure was bound to tell eventually as Walmsley’s pass found Morgan Knowles, who got the party started in the 15th-minute.
Then, quick as a flash, they doubled their advantage.
Grand Final veteran, James Roby’s reverse pass finding Zeb Taia, who was able to bundle over.
As we approached the half-hour mark, Saints looked in command, with Salford rarely venturing out of their own half.
That was until the 28th-minute when the Red Devils added some pressure of their own. Tui Lolohea danced his way through the Saints defence to dive over, only to be called back for obstruction.
However, Saints’ luck eventually ran out, as Bibby made history.
Man of steel winner, Jackson Hastings, given far too much time and space as he fed Bibby, where the Wigan-born centre sent the Salford faithful into raptures.
Watson is confident that Salford can keep some of the supporters, who created a sea of red in the East Stand.
“Hopefully we can keep some of the supporters which we got over the past year, we need them to keep coming and then we can build a proper team.”
Despite their late first-half set-back, Saints rallied. Watson’s men came out fighting and started the second period fast, but as Percival latched onto his own grubber, they knew they had a lot to do.
This was expert by Saints and something they have been doing all year. Their creative attack matched with strong defence is nothing short of unbelievable as errors began to creep into Red Devils’ play.
Two more Coote penalties and an unusual Tommy Makinson drop-goal put the ‘entertainers’ out of sight, giving them their first title in five long-awaited years.
Attendance – 64,102
Harry Sunderland Trophy winner – Luke Thompson