Will James Roby or Lee Mossop be lifting the Super League trophy at Old Trafford on Saturday?
The Super League season climaxes on Saturday evening as St Helens and Salford Red Devils do battle in the Grand Final.
Saints are back at Old Trafford for a record 11th time, aiming to lift the Super League trophy for the first time since overcoming Wigan Warriors 14-6 in the Grand Final five years ago.
Salford, on the other hand, have reached this stage for the first time in the club’s history and have their sights on completing a fairytale triumph after being tipped by many pundits to again be involved in a relegation battle this season.
Here, we take a look at some key issues, statistics and team news as Saints and the Red Devils prepare to lock horns for Super League glory…
A night of farewells
It will be a night for goodbyes on both sides at Old Trafford on Saturday, with big names departing from St Helens and Salford at the conclusion of the Super League season.
For Saints, it is their head coach Justin Holbrook who is saying farewell after agreeing to return home to Australia and take up the same role with NRL side Gold Coast Titans.
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October 12, 2019, 5:00pm
Victory in the Grand Final would be the perfect way to end two-and-a-half years with the club for Holbrook, particularly after missing out on claiming the Challenge Cup after being beaten by Warrington Wolves at Wembley in August.
St Helens captain James Roby made no secret of the fact that the desire to give Holbrook a winning send-off is an extra motivating factor for the players and the hooker praised the impact the 43-year-old has made.
“Justin leaving adds another motive for us,” Roby said. “What he’s done for us as a club and for the town in general over the past couple of years has been fantastic, and there would be nothing more fitting in my eyes than to send him home as a winner.
“But we’ve got Salford in front of us who are a quality team, have been playing very well, and fully deserve where they are and the story-line which goes with it.”
On the Red Devils’ side, it is several of the players who have been instrumental in their outstanding 2019 season moving to pastures new.
Of those named in Ian Watson’s 19-man squad for the Grand Final, Jackson Hastings and Jake Bibby are joining Wigan Warriors, George Griffin is off to Castleford Tigers and Josh Jones is making the switch to Hull FC.
“We’re fully focused in sending them out on a high,” Salford captain Lee Mossop said. “We’ve been riding a wave for the last two or three months and it’s a very good place to be at the moment.
“Everyone is buzzing, but I will be unbelievably proud to lead them out.”
Holbrook has eyes on the main prize
Justin Holbrook was crowned as Super League’s coach of the year
St Helens have been the dominant team in Super League this year, wrapping up the League Leaders’ Shield early in August and going on to finish top of the table by a record margin of 16 points.
It was no surprise, therefore, to see Holbrook nominated for the coach of the year award, along with Grand Final opposite number Watson, London Broncos’ Danny Ward and Warrington’s Steve Price.
He duly carried off that accolade at the Man of Steel awards ceremony on Sunday evening and while that was a great source of pride, Holbrook would much rather get his hands on the Super League trophy.
“I was proud to win the award, but as we all know it’s the trophy we all want to win on Saturday,” Holbrook said.
St Helens wrapped up the League Leaders’ Shield by a record margin
“I’m proud of the players, to be honest. To finish 16 points clear at the end of the regular season and the biggest winning margin in the history of Super League is an awesome effort from them, and credit to their consistency this year.”
Neither is Holbrook getting too wrapped up in the emotion of it being his final game in charge of St Helens, with his focus firmly on getting his side as best prepared as possible for the showdown with Salford.
“I’ve been asked a lot about the emotion of it being my last game in charge, but I’m not worried about any of that,” Holbrook said.
“My focus is on this week’s training and the game on Saturday, and whatever happens after that I’ll deal with it then. Until then, we just crack on as normal and look ahead to Saturday.”
Mossop hails Red Devils’ belief
Mossop puts Salford’s run to the Grand Final down to the belief in the squad
After a mixed first half of the season, an eight-game winning run sparked by a victory away to Warrington on July 12 lifted Salford from play-off outsiders into a third-place finish at the end of the regular season.
Even a defeat to Wigan Warriors in the opening round of the play-offs did not derail the Red Devils, who rebounded to see off Castleford Tigers in the elimination game followed by avenging the defeat away to Wigan in spectacular style last Friday.
That saw them reach the Grand Final for the first time in the club’s history and while it was a surprise to many observers, particularly after battling to avoid relegation last year, those inside the club had long held this as a target.
Red Devils skipper Lee Mossop put their rise in 2019 down to the belief in the squad, although he felt their inconsistent form up until July was down to still shaking off the scars of being involved in a relegation fight.
Salford have had plenty to celebrate in the past few months
“We had high expectations, we saw how well we’d prepared and trained, but at the start of the year something wasn’t clicking,” Mossop said.
“On reflection, I put that down to a bit of jet-lag from the year before. We were in that relegation battle for a period there and it can take its toll on you confidence-wise.
“For some reason, three or four months ago, something clicked. We all started believing, buying in and working harder for each other than they ever were, and in rugby league it’s that team who works hardest when you make slip-ups.
“It happens every week when you need to scramble and it works well for you, and that’s what we’ve based our success on so far.”
The numbers game
Kyle Amor will reach a notable milestone for St Helens in the Grand Final
- Kyle Amor is set to make his 300th career appearance when he runs out at Old Trafford for St Helens. The forward is one seven players in the 19-man squad who played last time Saints won the Grand Final 2014 as well.
- Tommy Makinson, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mark Percival, Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley and James Roby – who needs just one more appearance to reach 450 for St Helens – all played in the 14-6 win over Wigan Warriors too. Jonny Lomax also played in the 2010 and 2011 finals for St Helens, but was on the losing side in both.
- Victory for St Helens would see Lachlan Coote become the 13th overseas player to win both the Super League and NRL Grand Finals. The Australia-born full-back was part of the North Queensland Cowboys side which triumphed Down Under in 2015.
- Salford hooker Logan Tomkins is in line to clock up his 200th career appearance when he plays at Old Trafford. This will be the former Wigan player’s first time playing in the Grand Final.
- Krisnan Inu could conceivably reach the 1,000-point mark for his career in the Grand Final. The goal-kicking winger has scored 239 of those for Salford.
- Niall Evalds, Jackson Hastings and Joey Lussick are set to complete an ever-present year for Salford in the Grand Final. The trio have featured in every one of the Red Devils’ Super League regular-season and play-off games.
Watch highlights as St Helens edged out Salford 32-30 in May
Both of this year’s Super League regular-season meetings between St Helens and Salford have gone the way of the former, with Saints triumphing 26-4 at the AJ Bell Stadium in February.
Roby led the way for the visitors with two tries, while Mark Percival, Jonny Lomax and Regan Grace all crossed as well and Lachlan Coote kicked three goals. The Red Devils’ sole score came from Derrell Olpherts.
It was a different story when the sides met at Totally Wicked Stadium in May, though, where they played out a see-saw contest for which the outcome was in still doubt with under one minute to go.
- Matches played: 46
- St Helens wins: 40
- Salford wins: 6
- St Helens highest score: 66-16 (H, 2001)
- Salford highest score: 44-10 (H, 2016)
Two tries from Coote and one from Makinson helped St Helens into a 16-0 lead with barely 12 minutes gone. But the goal-kicking of Krisnan Inu, and tries from Niall Evalds and Gil Dudson saw the Red Devils turn it around to lead by two points at half-time.
Evalds’ second score and another try from Robert Lui helped push the lead out to 14 points, only for the Saints to mount a comeback on the back of two tries in the space of a minute from Coote and Makinson.
Then, with just 35 seconds to go, James Bentley crossed for the home side to level the scores and full-back Coote slotted over the game-clinching conversion to seal the win.
Both head coaches have named unchanged squads from their previous matches for Saturday’s Grand Final showdown.
St Helens 19-man squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Joseph Paolo, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Jack Ashworth, Aaron Smith, James Bentley, Lachlan Coote
Salford Red Devils 19-man squad: Niall Evalds, Kris Welham, Jake Bibby, Lee Mossop, Josh Wood, Gil Dudson, Josh Jones, George Griffin, Mark Flanagan, Joey Lussick, Adam Walker, Greg Burke, Tyrone McCarthy, Logan Tomkins, Ken Sio, Krisnan Inu, Tui Lolohea, Jackson Hastings, Josh Johnson