St Helens confirm surprise appointment of Justin Holbrook as head coach

Aaron Bower and Guardian sport
St Helens beat Leigh 28-6 on Friday but are mid-table and hoping to turn their season around. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

St Helens have confirmed the appointment of Justin Holbrook as their new head coach on a two-and-a-half year contract.

The Saints have been looking for a coach since the departure of Keiron Cunningham last month. A three-man coaching team of Derek Traynor, Jamahl Lolesi and the former Great Britain half-back Sean Long had been in temporary charge.

The club had suggested they were in no rush to replace Cunningham, even saying Traynor, Lolesi and Long could remain in charge for the rest of the season. However, as exclusively revealed in The Guardian on Thursday, the former Super League champions settled on Holbrook after being impressed at a recent interview.

The Saints chief executive, Mike Rush, had travelled to Australia to source candidates, with Holbrook placed on a shortlist alongside the former Salford coach John Cartwright and the former Wigan and Leeds forward David Furner.

“We are delighted to secure Justin; he is widely experienced and has a track record of coaching at the highest level,” Mike Rush, the club’s chief executive, told the club’s website.

“He impressed us with his knowledge of the British game and his work with younger players,” Rush added.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to be the head coach of St Helens. The club has a rich and proud history and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity,” Holbrook said.

“St Helens are one of the top teams in the Super League competition with a history of success. I will be working hard to continue that tradition and I cannot wait to get started.”

Holbrook will be a largely unfamiliar name in this country. He has worked at NRL sides Canterbury, St George and Parramatta before becoming assistant to the former Catalans coach, Trent Robinson, at Sydney Roosters.

The 41-year-old also coaches the Junior Kangaroos, the Australia Under-20s side. The Junior Kangaroos play their New Zealand counterparts on Friday; it is unclear whether Holbrook will remain in Australia for that match, but he is expected to travel to the UK “as soon as possible”.

Holbrook becomes the latest in a line of NRL assistants to take coaching roles in Super League; examples include Robinson himself, as well as the former Wigan coach Michael Maguire, who was an assistant at Melbourne Storm before joining the Warriors in 2010, when he led Wigan to the Super League title during his first season in charge.

Holbrook’s immediate objective will be to steer St Helens away from a battle to avoid the bottom four and the Qualifiers. The Saints are seventh, only two points ahead of ninth-placed Warrington: who they play on Friday at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

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