Barba departure has made St Helens more balanced in 2019, insists Justin Holbrook

St Helens coach Justin Holbrook believes the shared responsibility has side has taken on following the departure of Ben Barba last year – plus the form of Lachlan Coote – has made them a more balanced outfit this time around.

The Saints were undoubtedly reliant on Barba throughout large stretches of last season, who was named the competition’s best player by his fellow peers in the latter stages of 2018.

But without Barba this year, Holbrook admits he has asked his squad to all step up their games – a formula which seems to be working, given how the Saints are the only team to have won their first five games of 2019.

“When asked if his side had more balance to it this year, Holbrook said: “Definitely, and I think there needed to be.

“The things Benny could do, and did, for us, nobody else could do.

“What he could do individually, nobody could replicate so it was pointless trying to repeat that this year. As a team this year, we had to step up a bit more collectively and share some of that responsibility around and I think we’ve done that.”

Holbrook also admits the form and influence of Coote has also played a telling role in their strong start, with the Saints coach impressed with how the Scotland international has adapted to Super League.

He said of Coote: “I’ve been very impressed. I’ve given him a lot of responsibility, and that was very different from what he was used to at the Cowboys, and I’m asking a lot more of him – but he seems to be enjoying it. 

“It’s going to take him some time but he’s doing a very good job now considering he hasn’t been kicking in open play and from the tee for a while. His calmness at the back is a real strength of ours right now and he’s only to get better.”

When asked about Coote’s credentials for a potential Great Britain call-up, Holbrook replied: “I haven’t given that a lot of thought myself, but Morgan Knowles and Regan Grace are in that mix too from our club. I think it’s great the Great Britain tours are back.”