Salford have endured a tough decade with financial uncertainty and relegation dogfights, but after years of struggle it very nearly ended with a historic Grand Final win.
In 2013, Marwan Koukash took over the loss-making Super League club with plans to transform them into the Manchester City of rugby league.
A change of name from Salford City Reds to Salford Red Devils followed in 2014, as the racehorse millionaire ploughed in a ton of money and signed a number of big-name players.
Despite this, they were unable to compete at the top and in 2016 they needed a miraculous Gareth O’Brien drop-goal to avoid relegation.
Koukash left at the end of 2017 and over the last couple of years the club have experienced more success, with highly-rated head coach Ian Watson leading them to Old Trafford.
Throughout the whole decade, many great players have pulled on the Salford jersey, and in a continuation of my recent feature articles, I have attempted to pick their team of the decade.
Here are my choices…
Full-back – Gareth O’Brien
If it wasn’t for Gareth O’Brien, who knows where Salford would be now? His magical drop-goal in the 2016 Million Pound Game secured the club’s safety and broke the hearts of Hull KR. That moment alone is arguably the most dramatic anywhere in rugby league this decade and continues to be replayed even now. O’Brien had a great boot, but he was also a great attacking threat during his spell at the AJ Bell Stadium and warrants a place in this team.
Wingers – Jodie Broughton & Niall Evalds
Jodie Broughton served four seasons with the Red Devils that began back in 2010. He played in an underachieving team but still managed up to 60 tries in just over 90 appearances for the club. Quick, strong and a great finisher, Broughton was unlucky not to be playing in a better side.
On the other wing we have Salford youth product Niall Evalds. He has been one of the club’s most consistent performers of recent years and is a firm fan’s favourite. With the speed of a Maserati, the England Knights star touched down for 22 tries in 2019, taking his tally past 100 overall for the Red Devils.
Centres – Kris Welham & Junior Sa’u
Since arriving from Bradford Bulls in 2017, Kris Welham has slotted in very nicely and has helped Salford to two top four finishes in three seasons. His personal accolades include scoring up to 30 tries in over 80 appearances, arguably becoming one of their most consistent attacking players.
The same could be said for Junior Sa’u who proved to be a popular figure with the Red Devils, enjoying what was the best period of his career with Salford. Finishing as the club’s top try-scorer for two seasons, his departure surprised many but he will be remembered fondly at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Stand-off – Robert Lui
Kicking off the half-back combination is former player Robert Lui. The Australian recently traded places with Tui Lolohea at Leeds midway through last season, however Lui produced some superb attacking rugby during his time at the club. His kicking ability, running game and sheer upper-body strength made him a tough player to handle. This helped him to score over 200 points in just over 100 appearances and he can be proud of his contribution to the Devils.
Scrum-half – Jackson Hastings
Despite only spending a season and a half with the club, the official 2019 Steve Prescott Man of Steel Jackson Hastings is named at scrum-half. He provided the highest amount of try assists last season with a total of 36, this along with 117 tackle busts and 143 attacking kicks took Salford to the Super League Grand Final. Hastings established himself in the English game with the Red Devils and his departure to Wigan is a tough one to take for his adoring Salford faithful.
Props – Craig Kopczak & Lama Tasi
Craig Kopczak spent three seasons with Salford before departing to Wakefield in 2019. He was hugely consistent during that time, making over 80 appearances, becoming top metre-maker and helping the club reach a Challenge Cup semi-final.
The other front-rower is Lama Tasi who served two spells with Salford, making over 100 appearances. He was part of their 2017 resurgence after a brief spell with St Helens, before departing for another big move to Warrington in 2019. His best career contributions still remain in a Red Devils jersey and he could still yet return for a third stint.
Hooker – Logan Tomkins
Another of their consistent performers this decade is the youngest Tomkins brother Logan. The 27-year-old served four seasons with the club, making over 100 appearances. He featured prominently in both their revivals following dismal 2016 and 2018 campaigns, leading by example from acting half while becoming a tackle machine in defence. He is probably one of the most underrated players in the sport.
Second-row – Josh Jones & Ben Murdoch-Masila
Dream Team member Josh Jones unsurprisingly takes the first spot in the back row. He has been exceptional since joining the club from rugby union in 2016, with last season a particular stand out as he topped the competition’s tackle bust chart and finished fourth on metres made with 3383. His departure to Hull will leave a huge gap in the Salford side.
Ben Murdoch-Masila is another former Dream Team member who also arrived at the club in 2016 after falling out of favour with Penrith Panthers. The juggernaut is now at Warrington but made his name at Salford and was renowned for his devastating running game. His speed, power and try-scoring ability led to the Wolves paying big money for the Tongan star.
Loose-forward – Mark Flanagan
Mark Flanagan has come into his own since joining from St Helens in 2016. His contribution in helping the club reach the Grand Final this year went under the radar and his consistency is perhaps not eye-catching, but it is certainly effective. The 32-year-old is no stranger to running the ball in and his tireless defensive work makes him almost invaluable. Flanagan still has plenty to offer despite being at the end of his career.
Coach – Ian Watson
No doubt at all that current head coach Ian Watson is selected considering what he has battled through with the club. Having assumed the reigns in 2016, Watson has taken Salford from the brink of relegation to their first ever Super League Grand Final. He has done all this in the space of three years, with a Challenge Cup semi-final appearance in 2018 not to be overlooked either. The majority wrote them off as being ranked outsiders at the start of 2019 and the same will probably be said at the start of 2020 too, but don’t back against Watson achieving yet more history with his hometown club.