Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Photo Getty Images
The news that Justin Holbrook would be leaving St Helens at the end of the season to link up with Gold Coast Titans broke recently.
Holbrook has enjoyed a superb stint with the Saints, placing the club firmly back at the top of the tree in Super League.
The Saints could be on for a trophy treble this season, having reached the Challenge Cup final.
Holbrook is set to be the first coach to lead Saints out at Wembley since 2008, thanks to last weekend’s victory over Halifax in the Challenge Cup semi-final.
Some of the stats from his time at Saints are genuinely impressive.
Holbrook has overseen victories in 79% of his games in charge of St Helens, with the Cup semi-final win over Halifax being his 62nd victory from 78 matches.
“I’m excited to get over there but if I’m being honest it’s been a little bit awkward in St Helens,” he told NRL.com.
“To tell everyone I am leaving is not a great feeling.
“I have loved my time over here and want to finish on a high before I head home to start the next chapter.”
But no one could really, hand on heart, tell themselves that they really expected Holbrook to stay forever if he was successful.
Super League is a testing ground for coaches, in much the same way that the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard have coached the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers in soccer’s Scottish Premiership.
After a successful spell with the Celts, Rodgers found himself back in demand in England, and is now managing Leicester City in the Premier League.
Super League allows coaches to make the step up from assistant to head coach, and to test systems and concepts in a less pressurised (and less well-paid) environment.
At the other end of the scale, veteran coaches like Tim Sheens come over from the NRL when they need a fresh challenge at the back end of their careers.
In many ways, Holbrook’s departure highlights the gap that still exists between Super League and the NRL.
The challenge for Super League now is to become a competition where the likes of Holbrook come to stay.
Although unlikely to happen for many years, Super League has to aspire to be the most exciting and challenging rugby league competition in the world.
Recent media stories suggested that a split might be brewing in the rugby league ranks, with reports of plans for a breakaway competition doing the rounds.
Whether the European game is robust enough to withstand such a war is a moot point.
But the persistence of a large gap in quality and wealth between the world’s premier rugby league competition and its main rival is something that should worry us.
Closing that gap, which should be narrowed by Super League improving not the NRL declining, should be a priority for all rugby league administrators right now.