St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook has the job of lifting his players from the disappointment of losing to Warrington Wolves in the final of the 2019 Challenge Cup at Wembley as they bid to end the season on a high.
Saints went into the final as the heavy favourites. However, they were unable to transfer their high scoring form from the Super League into the showdown for the trophy, while Warrington raised their game to hold their rivals to just four points in a 18-4 scoreline success to make up for their own heartbreak 12 months earlier.
It had been 11 years since St Helens had reached a Challenge Cup final and the last chance for Holbrook to get his hands on that particular piece of silverware before he leaves the Merseyside club at the end of the year to take up the coaching job at Gold Coast Titans in the NFL.
When Theo Fages crossed the line in the second half for Saints, they looked set to begin a comeback against Wolves. Yet, Lachlan Coote’s missed conversion soon ended any hope of the favourites getting back into the contest.
Holbrook will be desperate his players recover quickly and change their focus on the Super League, where they have the chance to still finish 2019 on a high and prove they have been the best team in the country this year.
St Helens are 16 points clear at the top of the Super League table after what has been a superb campaign for them in the regular season so far. Their latest success came against Castleford Tigers where they won 4-0 in a low scoring game at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
There are two rounds of fixtures left in the season before the play-offs. Saints have to face Huddersfield Giants at home, while they then travel to the KCOM Stadium to take on Hull FC in the final game of the regular season.
The league leaders have rugby league odds of 8/11 to come out on top at Old Trafford in Manchester in October. Given they now have first place secured and the League Leaders’ Shield in the bag, they will head straight into the semi-final where they will face one of the quarter-final winners.
Holbrook’s men will get a second chance to qualify for the Grand Final if they lose their opening semi-final tie as they will take on the winners of the second semi-final at home. If he reaches the championship-deciding game, it will be the Australian’s first experience of the match at Old Trafford as he has yet to guide his side there in his three-year stint at St Helens.
The last time Saints were in the Grand Final was in 2014 when they beat Wigan 14-6. The five-time winners have just Leeds ahead of them in the standings on who has won the trophy the most since the Super League was launched in 1998.
The pain of the defeat to Warrington is likely to be hurting the camp but they can soon get over that disappointment with Grand Final success on October 12.