St Helens coach Holbrook to leave for Gold Coast Titans at end of season

St Helens have begun the search for a new head coach following confirmation that Justin Holbrook will return to his native Australia to join the Gold Coast Titans at the end of the season.

The 43 year old, who has transformed the fortunes of Saints since joining them in May 2017, is out of contract and rejected the club’s offer of a new deal in order to return to the NRL, where he was assistant coach at Sydney Roosters.

Titans said that Holbrook had been offered and agreed a two-year contract to succeed fellow Australian Garth Brennan, who was sacked earlier this month with the team bottom of the table. “It has been an extremely tough decision to leave such a great club in St Helens,” Holbrook told Saints’ website. “Since I arrived here in 2017, everyone at the club and the fans have been brilliant to myself and my family and we have loved our time here.

“Eamonn McManus [the chairman], Mike Rush [ceo] and the board wanted me to stay and did everything they could, which I greatly appreciated, but an opportunity to return home to the NRL is what I feel I need to do. It is very difficult as the only time I would get an opportunity like that is when we are winning and doing well as a club, which makes the decision even harder for me.

“I want to pay a huge thank you to my staff, who are all excellent at what they do, and especially the players who make coming to work enjoyable every day. The main thing for me is that I know the club is in a great position moving forward.”

Jason Demetriou 
Demetriou, now 43, is familiar to English rugby league fans, having spent virtually his entire playing career on these shores, initially with the defunct Lancashire Lynx but for seven years with Wakefield, where he was made captain. He cut his coaching teeth with Keighley and, after returning to Australia, rose to prominence by steering Northern Pride to Queensland Cup glory. That earned him a stint as Wayne Bennett’s number two at Brisbane and he followed the England boss to South Sydney. 

Richard Marshall 
Marshall is technically already in position, having succeeded Sean Long as assistant to Justin Holbrook six weeks ago. The 43-year-old was a useful back-row forward in his playing days with Halifax, Huddersfield and London Broncos and had his coaching apprenticeship under Tony Smith at Warrington. He was head coach for four and a half years at Halifax, where he ensured the part-time Championship club were top-four contenders every year until his surprise sacking in April. 

Ian Watson 
Watson was a Welsh international scrum-half who gave splendid service to Salford, Rochdale, Halifax, Swinton, Oldham, Leigh and Widnes before carving out a successful coaching career. He began at Swinton before teaming up with his old Wales boss Iestyn Harris at Salford, where he stepped up as head coach in 2016. Constantly working on a tight budget and with a series of off-field issues that would have tested more experienced men, Watson continued to defy all expectations by turning the Red Devils into play-off contenders and his stature was recognised by his addition to the Great Britain backroom team. 

Shaun Wane 
It would rank as one of the more unlikely appointments since Wane spent nearly four decades as player, scout and coach at arch rivals Wigan but it cannot be ruled out. Wane, 54, left his home-town club at the end of the 2018 season, shortly after guiding them to a third Grand Final triumph, to take up the part-time role of high-performance coach with the Scottish Rugby Union. But he remains a rugby league man and expressed an interest in the Leeds vacancy earlier in the year. PA Media