How the first team promoted to Super League took everyone by surprise

Salford became the first club to be promoted to Super League in 1997, after topping the first division the season prior. They were to replace Workington Town, who had finished bottom of Super League with just 5 points. 

Salford had already been controversially excluded from Super League after resisting the pressure to merge with Oldham and be a part of the top tier in the first season of summer Rugby League. Salford had made an early statement early in 1996, cantering to a famous victory over Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup. The Reds won the contest 26-16, preventing Wigan from winning the competition for a ninth consecutive time. 

After the regular season ended, Salford sat in first having won 17 out of 20 games. Their impressive season was helped by the try-scoring efforts of both Darren Rogers and Nathan McAvoy, who each scored 16 tries. Promotion however, would be decided by the play-offs. In the semi-final they eased to a fairly comfortable victory over Hull KR, winning 36-16. Salford would face Keighley at Old Trafford in game which they would win 19-6, thanks to tries from Steve Blakeley and Scott Naylor (2). 

Understandably, people’s expectations of Salford were low, something that the club has faced throughout their time in Super League. But true to form, Salford would prove people wrong as they finished a very respectable sixth place in their first season.

They won 11 and lost 11, which far surpassed people’s presumption that they’d be sitting somewhere near the foot of the table, picking up the occasional win. Steve Blakeley was Salford’s top point-scorer, and the dynamic halfback set up tries and used his footwork to find gaps in opposition defences.

He also kicked an impressive 73 goals, whilst Darren Rogers and Nathan McAvoy continued their form as excellent try scorers. Salford were unable to use the season as a platform to establish themselves as a regular top half club and would finish 11th the following year. 

Although they are yet to win a major honour during the Super League era, they have earned the right to be considered a Super League club, and have had some close calls with both relegation and glory in recent seasons. 

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