AFTER falling short in both semi finals the previous year, despite promising so much, Saints had no shortage of motivation attacking the 2019 campaign.

There had been some key personnel changes, with Lachlan Coote coming in for Ben Barba at full back, Fiji skipper Kevin Naiqama replaced Ryan Morgan in the centre and Joseph Paulo being added to the mix in the pack.

Although not a new man, the return to fitness of Big Alex Walmsley, after suffering an horrendous broken neck injury the previous year, was another massive bonus.

In his absence the previous year, Luke Thompson had stepped up to the plate – now the two of them united would operate like a relentless pair of wrecking balls, backed up from the bench by the ever improving youngsters Matty Lees and Jack Ashworth, plus the more experienced Kyle Amor and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

With a robust and experienced second row pairing in Dom Peyroux and Zeb Taia, and the ever improving Morgan Knowles at loose, Saints had a pack that meant business to lay a platform for a flashy backline.

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Justin Holbrook would make a few other tweaks to Saints attack and defence – and within weeks of the first pre-season friendly it became obvious that Theo Fages would partner Jonny Lomax in the halves, displacing Danny Richardson.

It meant those two, plus Coote, had to gel and form the attacking brains trust of the side.

It did have teething troubles to start with, but once Coote got used to the lead role he was about to play, there was no holding them.

Although not as dynamic and individually explosive as Barba, Coote’s skills and selfless play for the team soon made him a crowd favourite.

And one of the highlights of the campaign would be hearing 5,500 travelling fans at Wigan sing “He’s the reason.....” on Good Friday.

The beauty of Fages’ play at half back was not simply being a better defender, but on attack he had a willingness to take the ball to the teeth of the defence, cop a wallop, but earn that extra bit of space on the edge that paid dividends for Regan Grace and Tommy Makinson.

It did, however, leave a shortfall with the boot which Saints did try to mitigate through Coote’s left foot.

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Lomax enjoyed another immense season at six – and was rewarded by a clean sweep of the club’s player of the year awards.

He also used some players smarter – namely skipper James Roby – who worked in tandem with young rake Aaron Smith.

There were other changes in approach, too, and Holbrook wanted to avoid the mistakes of the previous year, when they shot out of the blocks at a rate of knots only to flounder when it mattered.

That said, they hardly started the year like slouches – comprehensively defeating champions Wigan when there was still the remnants of snow on the ground.

Saints started strongly and got better – with the only defeats in a 29-match league campaign coming on the road at Perpignan and London twice.

There was plenty to enjoy about Saints’ style - epitomised by Makinson’s all round game. Selflessly taking in the ball to clear the line with some hard carries, but still having the finishing prowess and pace to polish off the chances at the other end.

With a record of 26 wins from 29 in Super League, it made the Wembley defeat by Warrington stick out even more – the only blot on a perfect year.

But credit to Saints, they picked themselves up to finish the year strongly; an incredible 16-points clear at the finish.

And with Holbrook announcing his decision to join the NRL, Saints ensured he returned home a winner after transforming Saints’ fortunes in three years.