Salford Red Devils have gone through quite the change since the Super League started back in 1996. From their stadium, to their name, they really have made their mark.
They just missed the cut-off to be involved in the inaugural Super League season. They also resisted a merger with Oldham to form a new Manchester club.
Despite not being in the Super League, Salford claimed a huge scalp in 1996 when they ended Wigan’s dominance of the Challenge Cup. Wigan had won eight straight Challenge Cups before. They ended a successful season by beating Keighley in the Championship playoff final to take their place in the Super League.
Promotion to Super League
Salford consolidated their place in the Super League, but were dealt a blow in 1999 when Andy Gregory, who led them into the Super League, had resigned so he could focus on his pub business. He was replaced by John Harvey. Also that year, they adopted the name “Salford City Reds”.
Harvey led Salford to survival that year, and was given a new contract. However, he resigned in 2001 following a crushing 70-4 against Wigan. He was replaced by Steve McCormack.
McCormack was the youngest Head Coach in the Super League when he was named, he was 28 at the time. However, he only lasted 10 months in charge, as he only won three games from a possible 20.
His replacement was the Bradford Bulls assistant Karl Harrison. He had served his coaching education under Brian Noble.
The Harrison era
However, he couldn’t keep Salford in the Super League. They were relegated on the final day of the season, after losing at home to Castleford Tigers.
They were able to bounce straight back after winning the National League One Grand Final against Leigh Centurions. This was built on with a ninth place finish.
2005 saw big improvements being made. They had signed Luke Robinson and David Hodgson from Wigan in the off-season, and were largely regarded as one of the most improved teams of the season.
That culminated a year later, when they made the playoffs for the first time in their history. This was despite them being tipped for relegation that year. However, their playoff match resulted in a 52-6 defeat at Bradford.
The end of the road came for Karl Harrison in 2007 after winning just three of their first 16 matches. He was eventually replaced by Shaun McRae, the former St Helens, Hull FC and Gateshead Thunder coach.
McRae couldn’t stop the Reds from going down, and was involved in the only Super League game ever to not involve a try. They beat Harlequins 5-2 in June 2007.
The Australian then led the club to a treble-winning season outside of the Super League. They won the League Leaders Trophy, The Grand Final and the Northern Rail Cup. As a reward, they were given a licence to earn their place back in the Super League in 2008.
Once again, Salford were able to consolidate themselves, but were dealt a blow in 2011, when McRae missed most of the season with an undisclosed illness. He would eventually be replaced by Phil Veivers.
A new dawn
A year later, the club moved out of their Willows home, and moved to the new Salford City Stadium in Eccles. Their first game there was a 24-10 defeat against Castleford.
In 2013, a winding-up position against the club over unpaid tax and unpaid wages was adjourned. They were saved by Marwan Koukash. He sacked Veivers soon after following a poor run of form. Brian Noble ended up taking over as Head Coach.
Ahead of the 2014 season, Salford had rebranded as the Red Devils. They unveiled a new badge, a new kit and 10 new players. Rangi Chase, Adrian Morley, Tim Smith, Francis Meli, Tony Pulutua, Jake Mullaney, Junior Sa’u, Steve Rapira, Jason Walton and Greg Johnson were all signed under the new regime.
They soon had a new Head Coach as well as Iestyn Harris, who had a very successful playing career, took over as Noble was moved upstairs after a slow start.
Near Miss and Rebuild
2016 saw the club go into a real struggle. They had let star players Chase, Harrison Hansen, Corey Paterson and Theo Fages leave the club. Tim Sheens had also come in as the new Director of Rugby.
They were deducted six points for salary cap breaches, and ended up playing in the Million Pound Game against Hull KR. The Rovers were 18-10 up in the closing stages, but Salford came back to force Golden Point. With their first set, Gareth O’Brien landed a drop goal from close to half way to win it for the Red Devils.
In 2017, they made the top eight after a really strong start to the season. However injuries would play their part in 2018 as Salford were once again forced into the bottom four.
2019 would be the season when Salford really made their mark. Bolstered with the likes of Jackson Hastings, Niall Evalds and Ken Sio, they made the playoffs.
After a close defeat against Wigan in the first round, they then went on to beat Castleford 22-0, and then earned their revenge over Wigan with a 28-4 win.
That meant Salford reached their first ever Grand Final, where they faced St Helens at nearby Old Trafford. However, they were facing a side that had only lost three games all season, and the favourites claimed a 23-6 win.
In Ian Watson, they have a really good, young coach who can definitely take them further. He has definitely brought the best out of this group of players.
After losing Hastings in the off-season, they may well face a challenge. But players come and go from clubs. They will always be replaced eventually.
Once that correct formula is found again, don’t be surprised if Salford can surprise a few again.
6/10- They have the ability to really hurt teams, and have done all the way through their time in the Super League. They had their moment last season, and will be hoping to build on that going forward. It will be tough though.