JUSTIN Holbrook’s decision to leave Saints to take up the head coach’s job with Gold Coast Titans is a bitter blow, this week of all weeks, but not an unexpected decision.

Once the issue dragged on past May there seemed an inevitability that the pull of the NRL was proving irresistible.

Ironically, the better Saints played - the greater his demand Down Under.

If there is any positive, it will be that Holbrook will leave the club in an infinitely better position than the one he inherited.

It is not simply that Saints are clear top of the Super League and have reached their first Wembley final since 2008, there has been a huge improvement across the board.

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Whether that is the individual players, the style of rugby, the calibre of recruitment and even off the field stuff like the club’s interaction with the fans - there has been a tangible transformation.

It means that Holbrook’s successor will not have to radically change anything – simply build on platform laid and the culture that has been fostered in the two-and-a-bit years.

Of course – there is one caveat, after falling short last term, that Saints have not won any of the big cups – but they are well placed again.

This bit is important. For a club that gave its silverware polishers tennis elbow between 1996 and 2008, one major cup in 10 seasons is a poor return and one Holbrook will be working to fix at the double before he leaves these shores.

Still, sometimes we have to remember where we have come from.

After showing a marked improvement from day one of Holbrook’s tenure – a 45-0 Magic win over Hull FC – Saints clawed themselves up from flirting with the middle eights to a strong finish in the top four. And but for a late penalty and a golden point drop goal would have been at Old Trafford in 2017.

Last year, they were by far the best team in the comp, but a late try at home to Warrington scuppered their Grand Final plans, this coming after the season had been partly derailed with the Challenge Cup semi defeat by Catalans.

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Using that as motivation, and seeing some aspects tightened up and improvements in some quarters, Saints have attacked 2019 with renewed vigour.

So, what difference has Holbrook made at Saints?

Well, there were some obvious ones. His first visible move to entice a superstar like Ben Barba to join showed ambition and immediately we saw a buy-in to the old Saints philosophy that the fans wanted to see stars, and not the ones that come with repeatedly banging your head against the wall.

And when Barba departed, in came Lachlan Coote to bring his own brand of football to complement the team.

The recruitment of those stars, and what they subsequently did in the red vee was important, not just in terms of winning but also in building a bridge back to the fans.

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Let’s face it, there was at time what seemed to be a complete separation between the club, in all its parts, and the fans.

The atmosphere at Saints – not just at the game but in and around the town – had at times turned rancid, with that ire directed across the board to McManus, CEO Mike Rush, coach Keiron Cunningham, the ‘old boys club’ – and any number of players deemed sub-standard and ‘not Saints quality’.

Home games in particular were shrouded with a pall of gloom which must have weighed heavily on the players and added to a cycle of depression. It seemed many fans continued to attend out of duty, rather than any hope that they would be entertained.

The appointment of Holbrook was a masterstoke by McManus and Rush, and has healed the divisions between the club and its supporter base.

The first thing is Saints are winning – and that always helps. And not just winning, doing so in style.

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The very fact that Saints have won back-to-back Good Fridays after not winning any since 2009 underlines that

Secondly, the entertainers are back! They are playing a style of rugby that excites fans – and it helps that they now have the craft of Lachlan Coote, aided and abetted by Jonny Lomax, setting up Regan Grace and Tommy Makinson. Nothing gets fans out of the seats more than a quick man, running it in.

Three, Holbrook has overseen improvement in individuals; Dom Peyroux is a different player to the one that operated during his first year. Likewise Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook has shown a huge improvement this past two years.

Four, Holbrook displays an openness to fresh ideas, as seen by his fact finding trip to America in his first winter to observe the workings of basketball and American Football sides.

And that trip opened his eyes to point five, Holbrook gets the idea that Saints are part of this community. A rugby team needs to be comfortable and supportive in its town. It is very noticeable that the players – following on from the work previously done at the club – have been out and about a lot more.

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So big boots to fill for Saints, who will no doubt try a similar formula that worked last time, but they are well placed.

In the meantime there are two big pots to win if Holbrook is to really cement himself in folklore as one of the club's true coaching greats.