JUSTIN Holbrook admitted to massively mixed feelings before he left St Helens on Monday morning with his wife, four sons, a bundle of luggage and a heap of happy memories to return to the other side of the world.

The 43-year-old Australian, who is joining Gold Coast Titans, leaves the club and town with a huge collective smile on its face after guiding the team to Grand Final success.

Although the thought of developing a dynasty at Saints was appealing - the lure of fulfilling his dream of coaching in the NRL has proven even stronger.

But at least he has the satisfaction of signing off his transformative two-and-a-half years with the big one ensconced in the Saints trophy cabinet.

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Holbrook explains: "If I had gone home last year, knowing how horrible that felt – not just for myself but for everyone in the town – it would have felt like I was going home with my tail between my legs.

This year it feels great – and of course, I would love to be here for the World Club Challenge and to try and win the Challenge Cup, and win back-to-back Grand Finals – all of those things are exciting, but you just never know when opportunities are going to come up.

"I do feel more content now knowing that I am going with the Super League as champions."

Holbrook leaves as he arrived - with an infectious smile on his face - but when he arrived in May 2017 he had an extensive job on his hands.

The team was languishing in seventh, playing a dull brand of football at a home venue that at times felt like a morgue.

In his his interview before the Grand Final, prop Alex Walmsley spelled out that there was a "hostile environment" at a club that was tearing itself apart.

Enter Holbrook - a relatively unknown assistant coach from Sydney Roosters - whose immediate task was to try and pour oil on troubled waters.

In the space of two weeks, from being tipped off about the job he was up in Newcastle coaching Saints to a 45-0 over Hull FC and the club were in talks to bring in Ben Barba.

Holbrook classed his task of being made up of "just lots of little things".

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"First up I had to let the players know how excited I was to be here – I was not a coach out of work or at a bad club. I was in a great spot at Roosters – so I wanted the players to know that I valued the position I was being given at St Helens.

"Then I put it to the players that they had choices – they could continue doing what they were doing and finish seventh or even worse. Or make some better choices and have a really good crack at 2017 and fix all of those things.

"And some of that stuff was a case of the players maybe trying too hard, or maybe trying to change too much week-to-week to try and find how to win.

It was just a case of getting some clear messages – simplicity was the biggest thing I brought in.

"The players bought into it straight away – they didn’t want the hostile environment to continue. But I also made it aware that they should not go blaming the fans because they were not going well.

"The fans have been coming all their lives and understand rugby league – they are not bagging you because you are playing well, they are doing it because you are not.

"The minute you turn that around and start to see that you are trying your best, and winning games, they will change their thought process."

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That was the unseen bit that needed fixing, but publicly they needed a calling card to help bring some pizzazz back to the field of play and send a crackle of excitement pulsating through the crowd.

Holbrook said: "Ben Barba was such an important signing for our club. One because we were not playing a good rugby style and two, because I did not have a name as a coach so nobody is going to be excited about myself coming over because you would much rather have someone you have heard of.

"The process of getting Ben to sign was a whirlwind. I landed, met the staff and attended the training run – took a three hour bus trip to Newcastle on the day of the game and then had to go and have a meeting with Ben Barba – because three or four other clubs were having that same meeting.

"I then had to try and convince him that this was the club to come to even though Saints were seventh and I hadn’t coached a game yet. My message was 'We have to turn the club back into the force he can be – and was hoping he is believing this.

"For him to choose Saints was really important for us – to lift the spirits of fans knowing that we have this excitement machine joining our side."

But after dazzling throughout the rest of that season Saints fell short in the semis and again failed the deliver the following year.

"The finish of 2017 was so disappointing – that semi at Castleford we were the better side and we finished that year really full of running and fell just short.

"Then 2018 was so disappointing for a number of reasons – falling short in big games, getting blown away by Catalans in the Challenge Cup semi.

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"The Super League semi here against Warrington was disappointing. We had flown out of the blocks in 2018 off the back of that 2017 disappointment and played some of our best rugby in rounds 1-6 and were blowing sides off the park.

"But every other side improved as the year progressed but we had capped it. Benny picked up some injuries and then he lost a bit of form, and then Robes finished the year with an injury.

"We learned from that. This year I expected us to win games but wanted to build as the season went on. I am glad we were not winning by 40 and those keys guys were able to slowly build into the year and we did not put all of our cards on to the table in round one, we just kept chipping away and peaked at the right time of the year," he said.

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There was the disappointment of the Wembley defeat - that in the course of the season looks like a freak result - but the responded from that making Holbrook a very proud coach.

"I have loved every minute of this journey – but the last four weeks have been brilliant. I just think we got everything right," he said.

"This year it did not matter who we were going to play, nobody was going to stop us.

"Going into that semi, we had earned the week off and went up Mount Snowdon and the Snowdonia Park. And some thought ‘what you doing here when you have a comp to win’.

"A lot of things were needed here and the last thing we wanted was more rugby league.

"We still got a few days of training in but I knew we needed to mentally freshen up because we were making a lot of errors in last couple of weeks of the season and we were trying to fix that.

"I knew that was off the back of just playing too much.

"We freshened up and got it right and I was so happy with the semi against Wigan because they had won 12 out of last 13 and even our own fans were telling me how Wigan always come good this time of year – and with all their young forwards getting all the wraps.

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"It was eating away and I could not wait to play and to come out and blow them off the park 40-10 that was justified from me on how good we have been this year.

"Then to wait for the GF – after the best season in 124 years and everyone outside our club wants Salford to win, you are thinking 'gee this is a tough crowd in England'.

"All those other things were hanging over our head, with people asking, 'Are you going to bottle it?' so go out out and play as well as we did was so pleasing."

And for someone who has made a conscious effort to make the club the centrepiece of the community it delights him to see the smiles on the faces of people across the borough.

He said: "It has probably taken until this year to create a team and community all as one. That is how important it is to the town and the players have to accept that responsibility.

"It is such a big responsibility to have on their shoulders. It is the same for myself – and I have loved that responsibility.

"You have people walking around town now going to work with a smile on their face – and they will have that for another 12 months if the boys go on and do it again.

"It is not about me but it is knowing that we have given so much joy to so many people in the town."

The Holbrook family head back to sunnier climes but they take with them the warmth of a town that has been welcoming in so many ways away from Saints matters - as well as memories that will last a lifetime.

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His boys - Harvey, Fletcher and twins Deejay and Bodie - have been a regular feature post match in recent weeks and have all embraced the sporting scene of St Helens playing rugby at Thatto Heath and football with St Helens Town and Pilks.

But Holbrook credits his wife Natalie for the way they have fitted into their community.

"She is the one that has made friends with all the school mums and rugby girls.

"She has done a lot of the running about on a Saturday morning when I have been in review. She is probably the easy going personality that fits in anywhere which has probably helped us as a family.

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"The kids have been quite funny at the back end of this year, it has just become the norm for them to wait until full time and run out.

"In terms of lifelong memories, what a great experience for them.

"All they have got in their heads is running on the pitch after the game, clapping the crowd and having their pictures taken with the trophy at Old Trafford.

"For us all it would have been disappointing going any other way.

"I am going home with a smile on my face," he said.