St Helens centre Mark Percival hoping to give coach the perfect parting gift

Mark Percival and Justin Holbrook talking to the media ahead of Friday's big match against Wigan. Picture: SWPix
Mark Percival and Justin Holbrook talking to the media ahead of Friday's big match against Wigan. Picture: SWPix

England centre Mark Percival says St Helens are motivated to ensure coach Justin Holbrook does not leave the club without a major trophy.

The popular Australian, who is returning to the NRL at the end of the year to coach Gold Coast Titans, has guided Saints to the League Leaders' Shield in each of his two full seasons in Super League.

But they fell agonisingly short in both the Challenge Cup and Super League in 2018 and have already lost to Warrington at Wembley this year, leaving the 2019 Grand Final as the last chance to present Holbrook with a farewell gift.

As they prepare to tackle arch rivals Wigan at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday night for a trip to Old Trafford, Percival says the players are determined to shake off the "nearly-men" tag.

"After Wembley I was devastated for a good few weeks but it's sport and we weren't good enough on the day," he said.

"I know we've said it over the last few years but we are building.

"You want to have something to show for all the hard work you put in and lifting that trophy for Justin would be outstanding. Hopefully we can do that."

Holbrook, who took over in May 2017, knows he will have just two or three matches left of his St Helens career but insists he is not thinking about returning home just yet.

"I'm not counting down, I'm really enjoying it," he said. "We've worked hard all year as coaching staff and as a club and now is the best time of the year.

"I'm just enjoying coming to training every day and really looking forward to Friday.

"And it's great to be playing against Wigan, too, our biggest rivals. As Lammy (Wigan coach Adrian Lam) says, it's the biggest rivalry in rugby league and to get the opportunity to play them at home for a spot at Old Trafford is as good as it gets."

The losers on Friday will have a second chance to reach the Grand Final, via the final eliminator a week later, but Wigan are on a roll with eight successive wins and Lam is confident they can finish the job.

"Our season has been up and down," Lam said. "As it's built up and we've got players back, we've been able to create some momentum in this back half.

"Saints have been the best team all year and it's difficult to come here, even when you're at your best.

"We are looking forward to the challenge. These are the games that everyone wants to play in."

Saints have beaten the Warriors three times already in 2019 but Holbrook knows from experience that previous results count for little when it comes to the business end of the season.

"It's great that we were able to finish 16 points clear of Wigan in second but on Friday night we're not going to start the game 16 points in front of them," he said.

"We've been rewarded for our consistency with a home semi and by getting a week off but that's it. We know our biggest rivals are coming on Friday and determined as ever to knock us off.

"All the pats on the back for how well we've done all year is out of the window and we've got to turn up when it matters most."