JUSTIN Holbrook said his goodbyes to the staff at Saints on Friday - and he had time for one last final Q&A with the St Helens Star's Mike Critchley.

MC: Can you assess how important ending the year with that trophy is to the players and fans?

JH: I was talking with some of the players who came in for reviews on Wednesday – and Tommy Makinson said he is going to be buzzing all pre-season now.

It made me think about when we finished last year knowing that it didn’t matter that we came out against Wigan in Round One and had a great win, which we did, we had to wait all year to do something about it.

I remember last year people telling we have to right the wrongs – but you have to play well all year to give ourselves a chance at the end of the year – we can’t just fast-forward to the end of the year – we had to win games all year to give ourselves a chance to compete.

Now I can look back and think, yes, we have done a great job – we have been outstanding.

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. For all of next year everyone is happy and that is a great feeling.

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

St Helens Star:

MC: Do you have mixed feeling personally and professionally about leaving now?

JH: Massively mixed feelings on everything. The best thing is knowing I have gone home with us having won. 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.

If I wait five years and we don’t have a great year then I won’t get that opportunity. It is hard – but I do feel more content now knowing that I am going with the Super League trophy locked up in the cabinet here in St Helens.

MC: Did you have any reservations when you first took the Saints job?

JH: I knew I wanted to be a head coach and had done that in the lower grades, the reserve team and the under 20s. When I had spent two-and-a-half years as an NRL assistant I knew I missed being in charge of my own team.

This came unexpectedly, too, it is not like I was seeking out opportunities because I was very happy at the Roosters, but when this presented itself I got really excited about it and it all happened so quickly within two weeks of that initial thought process I was into that first game.

I had no reservations at all - I was just excited about it and could not wait to get here. I think all those reasons helped us doing well.

MC: What did you have to do to settle things down?

JH: It was just lots of little things – that is all. First of all 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 – 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 to make – 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 that were happening off the field.

It was just a case of getting some simple, clear messages – and that is what I did. I just stripped everything back and got back to the basics of ‘Just turn up on time, get the normal things right, work hard and we will get enjoyment from this. Simplicity was the biggest thing I brought in.

MC: And how did they respond?

JH: The players bought into it straight away – they did not want to keep going the way they were going.

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 know the game as much as anyone and 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 (playing well).

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.

All of a sudden it happens – but it has 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.

St Helens Star:

MC: From the first game you saw the team improve as a collective – but also some as individuals?

JH: That was the choices they had. They could keep going the way they were and not be seen in a good light, publicly and even internally. For someone like Dom Peyroux it took him six to seven weeks to get an opportunity. And I would say to him, listen mate, you are not playing well enough. And then every week he was saying he was ready.

A lot of those boys just needed a change in direction and a bit of a new environment. I helped provide that and then they had a choice about it. All of a sudden that environment became a happy one and we all looked forward to coming to work.

I have to thank the players for that – I loved coming to work because of them. The playing group in particular – there are so many good guys at the club.

St Helens Star:

MC: It has taken this club a long time to replace some of the modern era legends, can this crop take it on now?

JH: It is important to respect your club legends – and nobody would ever want people to forget about – for example that 2006 era team – your Scullys, Keirons, Wellos and Longys.

Don’t ever forget them but it is important in this new stadium we have now been in for seven years that it is now falling upon the new superstars within the club, to look forward to coming to see and no longer how much better it was back then – but talk about the current side. Coming to the ground excited about watching this current team – that is important.

But it has taken a while, up to this year, to really move on from Knowsley Road. To win every home game – and in particular the one after the Challenge Cup final when we hung on and beat Cas 4-0 I have never heard more support for a side.

It is easy to support us when we are winning 30-0 and everyone is loving us scoring tries, but when we had to get up after that loss and threw everything into winning that game – the support we got that night I knew we had something special this year.

St Helens Star:

MC: By signing full backs Ben Barba and then Lachlan Coote, you have had to oversee the reversion of Jonny Lomax back to the halves, but what a revelation?

JH: Jonny has had a fantastic season. This year he was just so settled as a player. In the first year we were moving him back and he was finding his feet again.

He has so many different options in his game that he was trying to use them all – this year we just really calmed things down.

And with Lachlan Coote it was phenomenal what he was able to do. To come in after Ben was a difficult job.

Early in the year we gave him all the responsibility in the world. He got the goal kicking and general play kicking – and I said how good it would be for him for a real good team man and left foot kicker coming into this side.

But he did not kick great the first week or two – and there were a few people who were quick to give him a hard time. But I knew he had just spent six or seven years in Johnathan Thurston’s side at North Queensland Cowboys where he did not have to do any of that.

I knew he had it in his game but I knew it would take a few weeks to get going.

I was ok with that, as long as we were winning those games, which we were. We kept building and Cootey has been a tremendous addition – as have all the boys.

St Helens Star:

MC: You inherited Matty Smith at 7, then gave Danny the shot last year and then Theo. Half back has probably ben your biggest call here?

JH: There is no real right or wrong answer – Theo and Danny have different strengths to their game. I have no doubt that if Danny Rich had started we would have still won the comp.

He may have set up one or two more tries and certainly kicked a few more goals, but would maybe not be as strong as Theo in other areas.

We got it right this year as a settled side. If you were going to beat us this year you would have to play well. The only time we were not great was that Challenge Cup Final.

That is why I am so happy we have won it. If you look in 2017 it looked too easy to win, and then when next year does not happen you realise that this is hard to do.

St Helens Star:

MC: Is that cup defeat a real blot on a perfect year?

JH: We went into the Challenge cup Final with Coote, Roby, Knowles and Walmsley having not played for five weeks – but you have to play them because they are fit.

Then things don’t go your way you are chasing a game, making errors and people want to bag you for being chokers.

If those players had played leading up that game, and we had led 6-0 it would have been Warrington chasing the game in 31-degree heat and making errors and we go on to win that game. But they can seem like excuses so I have to cop those on the chin.

For the players to back up and win their next three league games and the semi in the fashion we did. And then go on to win the final made me so happy.

MC: So you move on to Titans – a big job. Will you get a break before tackling that?

JH: We get a few days stop in Dubai and that will be my only break this year.

With Titans not doing well their season finished in the start of September – ours finished mid-October, so by the time I get there at the end of October they will have had eight weeks off and will go back to training.

For myself – I will have a week off and then I will start work, but I am ok with that. I am happy our season went on as long as it did and we got the trophy.

It would have been disappointing going any other way. I am going home with a smile on my face.

St Helens Star:

MC: What is the biggest thing you will miss in St Helens?

JH: My direct staff and the players.

You don’t have the season we have had if everything is not going well.

You don’t fluke having the best side in 124 years by accident, you have to have everything going and clear on what needs to be done. You can’t have one or two guys deciding that what has been asked of them is not important and then that becomes five or six guys.

We have just had the best group of players to work with.

You talk about leadership – we have the best group of leaders. Throw in guys that were not in our leadership group – Kevin Naiqama, captain of Fiji, Theo Fages captain of France – just some brilliant characters outside of your key guys like your Robes, Jonny, Coote, Tommy and Big Al – so many.

What a perfect side to coach. Without doubt I am going to miss that group. I have been coaching a long time and I know how good they all are and I appreciate the enjoyment they have given me coming to work every day, I’ll never get that ever again.

MC: What will you not miss?

JH: It has to be the weather – January is hard. I find leading up to Christmas ok as everyone is excited for great Christmas.

But January when you are waiting for the season to start and you can’t feel your toes on the training pitch. It is harder for a coach than a player and they are running around the pitch while we are stood there shivering.

I can’t fault anything else.

I have loved the town – the people and everything with it – the schools and the sporting teams, the community is great, the pubs are family friendly. And the home ground is as good as ever.

You have the rugby league team as good as it is, four biggest football clubs in the world right on your doorstep. In terms of sport you have got it all and town has everything you need.

St Helens Star:

MC: That is brilliant – you have made this part of the job really easy for two-and-a-half-years, never ducked a question and always given illuminating answers. The readers have loved it.

JH: No thank you. I want to thank you for your work but also your passion for our team and our town. You really get it and understand the connection between the two. It has been great working with you.