Justin Holbrook isn’t the type of person who takes defeats well.
He’s a meticulous thinker, a thorough analyser and an incredibly detailed coach.
So when he suffered play-off heartache for the second time in 12 months last season, he felt an urge to rip up his guide to glory and re-write it all over again after stressing over every minute detail.
Defeat to Castleford in 2017 was a bitterly gut-wrenching experience but last year’s agonising semi-final defeat to Warrington was something else.
Saints had stormed to League Leaders’ Shield success having won 26 of their 30 league games. That, however, proved to be irrelevant.
“The six weeks after felt like six years,” said the Australian, who insists the wounds of their latest heartache have yet to heal.
But, despite a temptation to overhaul his side’s year-long assault on Grand Final glory, he’s refused to be lured into doing so.
“When we first lost that game I wanted to throw everything out because you think you’ve got it horribly wrong and you look at everything, players, staff, training, the lot.
“But once I settled down I realised we just had to get it right in those big games. We’ve got to earn it and play well all year to get that opportunity. If we worry about the end result we won’t get the start right and that opportunity.
“People have asked me since what went wrong but not much did, we were ahead with six minutes left, it was always going to be close.
“To try and change things now would be silly because of how good a year we had last year. We clearly did something right in the pre-season last year because we won nearly every week during the regular season. It’s about getting it right in those bigger games.”
Holbrook has moved to ensure they do deliver when it counts by recruiting three experienced overseas stars in Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo, two of whom have won the NRL Grand Final in their history.
“New personnel will help because they haven’t lived through coming so close twice,” he said.
“We’ve gone with experienced players and a player like Alex Walmsley back is a huge bonus too.”
Their first test couldn’t be greater, with the visit of fierce rivals and defending Super League champions, Wigan, in a game that needs no introduction.
Saints will have to topple the Warriors without last year’s Man Of Steel, Ben Barba. The livewire fullback departed in the off-season in order to return back to the NRL.
His replacement is Coote, who coincidentally was dropped by North Queensland to make way for Barba.
Barba’s presence and influence was unquestionable but Holbrook believes his replacement can have the same impact in a different way.
“They bring different things. I won’t change the way we play.
“Not in a bad way against Lachlan but when Ben got the ball I was excited, he had the ability to beat three players on his own. With Lachlan, we’ll rely more on set plays to get what we’re after, but in terms of our style it won’t change. People forget that we played without Ben in around six games last year and we won them all. Lachlan will bring that calmness and a good left-foot kicking game.”