It is now a few weeks since the appointment of Justin Holbrook as St Helens’ new coach.
Love Rugby League’s Dave Parkinson was at The Totally Wicked Stadium last Friday to see Saints take on Salford and gives his view, as well as that of players Matty Smith and Kyle Amor.
There was certainly an air of confidence at Saints last Friday as Salford rolled into town hunting their first win in St Helens for 37 years.
By the end of eighty minutes it was Saints that celebrated victory thanks to Matty Smith’s drop goal from forty metres, bringing a close to an astonishing eight minute, seventeen point comeback.
It was like Saints of old when plays were bold and conjured up re-runs in my mind of unforgettable moments like the “Wide-to-West” Chris Joynt try.
I know there is often elation in sport, but rarely does it get to such a fever pitch than when Smith was mobbed by his teammates after running forty metres from the scene of his winner to the touchline.
“Justin has come in and put things into place,” Smith told me after the game.
“He’s really got us going, motivated, especially in training. We are working hard every week and training has been intense and that is down to him. He’s really come in and worked his socks off with Longy (Sean Long) and Jammer (Jamahl Lohlesi) and we really are getting there now.
“When a new coach comes in it kind of gives you that bit of umph! We were losing games under Keiron (Cunningham) and the pressure was on a little bit and it is tough. Justin has come in and freshened things up.
“He just wants us to enjoy our game a little bit and has simplified things. I wouldn’t say that he’s massively torn the book up and started again but he’s just tweaked little things like not letting anyone in at your inside shoulder in defence. It sounds a bit obvious that but when he’s putting things like that into place, you listen.
“He’s a really smart guy and a great guy as well, he’s someone that you respect and I’m really looking forward to being coached under him for a few years to come.”
“It was like the Saints of old, with that attitude of never writing us off,” Amor added.
“We’ve always believed it, even last week you know when we played against Huddersfield, there was two points in it with four minutes to go and unfortunately they scored.
“We are battling hard and competing, but we are shooting ourselves in the foot too many times and the sooner we can get on the right side, the right side of completions then we will blow teams away.
“A lot of our defeats have been by less than six points, but again though, that has been a product of what we are doing to ourselves. Justin has highlighted that and put a real emphasis on improving that. We are going to look to how we can get better.”
A look at Saints results since Holbrook arrived has seen an upturn in fortunes. It started with a 45-0 rout of Hull at the Magic Weekend then continued with the late 22-19 win over Wigan.
Next came a four point 16-12 reversal at Castleford before a workmanlike 26-10 home success over Widnes and the 24-16 defeat at Huddersfield that Amor talked about. Along with this latest victory over Salford that is now four wins in six for Saints.
The Holbrook era has so far seen Saints concede an average of 15.5 points a game while scoring 24.33.
If I compare that to the interim period involving Long, Lohlesi and Derek Traynor, Saints were shipping in an average of 27.66 points a game while scoring 19.
The slight tweaks Smith referred to have certainly brought a marked improvement in defence and this is where I see improvement.
It is a trend that needs to continue with remaining games against Leeds, Hull, Catalans and Wakefield.
Saints are next in action on Thursday when they take on Leeds over at Headingley Carnegie (8.00pm).
I’d welcome your thoughts and especially those from St Helens fans about the impact Holbrook has had on the team. Feel free to comment below or via any of our social media channels or even to me directly via twitter: @DParkyRL.