Jack Coslett contributes the fans' perspective

AS we go into the 2018 Super League season, a sense of optimism surrounds the Totally Wicked Stadium with fans keen to see the impact of a full pre-season under Justin Holbrook.

The revival of a downbeat Saints midway through the 2017 campaign following Holbrook’s arrival was an impressive one, Saints going agonisingly close to October’s Grand Final – eventually exiting with defeat to Castleford Tigers in a semi-final thriller.

Bowing out of the Challenge Cup at the same place 53-10 in May just before Holbrook’s arrival, the performance in and leading up to that semi-final showed how far the Saints had come.

The injection of Holbrook’s passion and exciting style of play complemented with his dedication to enhance the relationship between club and community has made him an instant favourite with the fans.

He has said: “I want the town to be proud of us and I want us to be proud to play for St Helens.”

Without a Grand Final since 2014 and approaching the 10-year anniversary of Saints’ most recent Wembley trip, getting to one if not both finals is surely the primary objective for the new boss and is certainly an expectation of supporters.

So, the question poised, can Saints pick up silverware in 2018?

Among the favourites to win the Grand Final, the rugby league world anticipates a strong showing from the Saints this season, and I do too!

I think we’re in store for the most dramatic Super 8s yet.

Last season’s top four all expect to compete again, with resurgent Warrington and Wigan sides eager to avenge the misery of 2017.

Don’t be surprised to see Wakefield rustling a few feathers come the business end of the season either.

With the most competitive Super League campaign yet on the horizon, a certain Australian import will be settling the nerves of his new boss.

Only appearing on five occasions last season, Ben Barba - like Holbrook - will benefit from a full pre-season under his belt.

The handful of appearances in 2017 gave Saints fans and Super League a glimpse of what the former NRL star is capable of.

Expected to be first-choice full back, a fully fit Barba is an exciting prospect for the Saints and could be the missing link they have been searching for since the silverware polish was last used in 2014.

Although Barba will feel like a new signing tomorrow, Friday, when Saints take on Cas in this season’s opener, Saints have only acquired the signature of one player during Holbrook’s first off-season, 21-year-old James Bentley.

Moving from Bradford Bulls, Bentley could be the signing of the Super League season.

Having beaten off significant interest from other Super League clubs, the second rower has settled in within the ranks of his new club.

Bentley has said: “When I met Mike Rush, Justin Holbrook and the staff here, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Bentley will be joining a host of youngsters trying to break into the first team this year, with Holbrook’s lack of signings this winter showing the confidence in his current squad and those joining form the academy.

There is no doubt that the performances of James Roby, Alex Walmsley and other senior players will be crucial for the success of the Saints, yet it would be ludicrous to overlook the importance of the more inexperienced players within the ranks.

Often showing a wise head way beyond his years Morgan Knowles was the breakthrough player for Saints in 2017.

Making 30 appearances across the campaign, earning himself a nomination for Super League Young Player of the Year, Knowles showed his versatility, hard-working nature and impeccable attitude as he continued to impress throughout the year.

The 21-year-old Welshman will have benefitted from his World Cup experiences in the autumn, too, delivering some admirable performances in a struggling Welsh side.

Displaying the attributes of a potential future captain, Knowles will play an integral part for the red vee in 2018.

Knowles’ fellow countryman Regan Grace will have also taken plenty from his World Cup adventure.

After bursting onto the Super League scene with blistering pace and quality footwork on show in his debut against Wigan, he earned a regular place in the Saints starting line-up – one I expect him to keep this season.

If Grace can continue his progress and Tommy Makinson stays fit on the opposite wing, Saints will boast the strongest scoring prowess in England.

The most valuable of predicaments Holbrook will face this season is selecting his half backs.

Regardless of other contributing factors, in my opinion finding the correct combination in that department will define the St Helens RLFC season.

The selection between Matty Smith, Theo Fages, Jonny Lomax and youngster Danny Richardson will be giving the Saints boss sleepless nights heading into round one.

Solidifying the partnership of two of these players could take Saints all the way this year.