Titans fans will trade in their sea, sand and sky colours for the red and white of St Helens on Sunday, as 2020 Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook looks to finish his time in Super League with a grand final win over Salford.
Holbrook has the chance to follow the path set by Roosters coach Trent Robinson and Wests Tigers boss Michael Maguire, who both won Super League titles before returning to Australia and winning NRL grand finals.
A St Helens premiership win would be a fitting send off for Holbrook before he joins the Titans, with the 43-year-old adopted as a favourite son by the club and the Merseyside community after turning Saints’ fortunes around and turning them into the dominant team in Super League in the past two years.
It would also be the perfect springboard for Holbrook, who arrives on the Gold Coast on November 4 to start pre-season training with the Titans.
While all Titans fans will be wishing Holbrook well, the Gold Coast’s connections with St Helens run far deeper than the coach.
Two former Titans players – Dominique Peyroux and Zeb Taia – will be in Holbrook’s grand final squad, while a third – former Titans prop Luke Douglas – is on the Saints’ roster but not playing in the Super League decider.
But the Titans’ ties to St Helens extend further still, with two of the Gold Coast club’s biggest names off the field having strong links to Saints.
Titans Football Manager Anthony Laffranchi played three seasons for St Helens after finishing his career at the Titans at the end of 2011, playing 71 games in Super League between 2012 and 2014.
But few Australians that played at St Helens made the impact that Titans Head of Performance and Culture Mal Meninga delivered during his short stint as a Saint during England’s 1984-85 season.
Last weekend, the St Helens Star newspaper ran a feature on Meninga’s brief English sojourn – making the 35th anniversary of the 13th Immortal’s first game for Saints.
Meninga scored a remarkable 28 tries in just 31 games for Saints, and brought the winning ways that became the trademark of his playing and coaching career to a club that had fallen into losing habits.
“He arguably changed the course of Saints history more than any other import,” the article says.
“Meninga only played 31 times for Saints but the memories of those games still burn brightly for fans of a certain generation.
“The Knowsley Road sideboard had been without a trophy for seven years and crowds, in what was still a strong rugby league town, had dwindled down to the 3500 – 4000 mark.
“The fact that the fans in St Helens still talk about Meninga, his 28 tries in 31 games, the way he put 2500 on the average gates and the ending of the club’s silverware drought, suggests they had witnessed something special.”
One of Meninga’s greatest performances for St Helens came in the Premiership Final against Hull KR at Elland Rd, with the Titans figurehead scoring two intercept tries to lift his team to a 36-16 triumph.
His second try was a breathtaking 75-metre dash down the left flank, and a perfect illustration of the size and speed Meninga used to torment opponents during his illustrious career.
As he roars past the sideline camera like a Kenworth prime mover on the M1, you can practically hear the gear changes as he moves into overdrive, leaving the helpless Hull defenders in his wake.
Due to injury, and the incredible success of the Canberra Raiders back in Australia, Mal was never able to return for a second season at St Helens.
But he did make one last appearance at Knowsley Road – in 1994 when he returned to England as captain of the touring Kangaroos.
Despite being the “enemy” that day, Meninga received a rapturous reception when he led the Australian team onto the field from a fan base that has never forgotten his contribution to St Helens.
To this day, Meninga is still revered at St Helens. That connection between champion club and rugby league champion extends to another chapter this weekend and again next season, when Holbrook departs St Helens to join Meninga at the Gold Coast rebuilding the Titans.