Salford Red Devils: From the brink of utter despair

Widnes Vikings 10-46 Salford Red Devils

Welcome back to From The Terraces, the weekly column where I choose a hot topic within the rugby league community, and discuss my opinions. This week I look Salford Red Devils, and how they managed to escape relegation in 2016, and how they’re thriving off it in 2017.

I don’t think any coach in Super League had more heart palpitations than Salford’s Ian Watson did in 2016.

Salford went from utter despair to complete jubilation in the space of a few minutes as the Red Devils salvaged their Super League spot, in the Million-Pound Game with Hull KR.

Watson’s men scored on the fulltime hooter, with the last play of the game to take them into golden point. They would go on to win the game with a long-range drop-goal from the boot of Gareth O’Brien.

“As soon as it was done we pushed it to the side, and moved on. I know what kind of people we’ve got in our environment, we’ve got a good group and leaders.”

“We felt we were in a position that didn’t give a true impression, this year we’ve got a clean slate, to move on from that game, to prove what we’re about.”

(Ian Watson during the 2017 pre-season)

When you look at the 2016 season, you can’t help but feel for Ian Watson and that Salford squad. In the whole, they had a decent season, one good enough to finish in the Super 8s. However, in April, halfway through the season, they were deducted six points by the RFL, for breaches of the salary cap in 2014 and 2015.

While it was right for them to be punished, it felt unfair to punish the current squad and manager, who wasn’t a part of the 2014/15 salary cap breaching side. At the time, it sent Salford crashing down to second from bottom in the league, looking in real trouble. Up to that point, their season had been okay, and they were in a decent position.

However, from that point on their season took a turn for the worse. They not only had the six points to make up, but they also had teams above them going further ahead. Salford had 11 games remaining in the season, before the split to the Super 8s and The Qualifiers.

Salford would go on to win five of their remaining 11 games, and without the six-point deduction, they would have finished eighth, moving Wakefield into the bottom four. However, the six points was just too much to make up, and they suffered.

Many expected them to do alright in The Qualifiers, as they had a good enough side to survive, and people knew how unlucky that squad was to miss out on Super 8s. However, they struggled hard, as they only managed two wins from the six games, losing to two Championship sides, in Leigh Centurions and London Broncos.

That loss to London, which was at home, sent them into the Million-Pound Game with Hull KR. As KR finished above Salford, they had the home advantage. It was tough to predict, and had many people watching as it was guaranteed that a Super League club would be relegated to the Championship.

Everyone knows how the game played out, and the madness that happened. It was a real miracle that Salford won that game, one in which I believe that current squad and manager deserved.

Going into 2017, Salford needed to move on and forget, and so far, they’ve done just that. Red Devils are seven games into the new season, and sit fifth, with four wins from those seven, beating the likes of Warrington and Castleford along the way.

Prior to the 2017 campaign, signings were made. They got powerful forwards such as Lee Mossop and Lama Tasi to the talented half-back, that is Todd Carney.

This past week has been a good one for the Red Devils, one that makes the fans feel good about their team. Last week, they became the first side to beat the in-form Castleford in 2017, then following that win, they gave a new two-year deal to coach Ian Watson, and new contracts to Ben Murdoch-Masila, Junior Sa’u, Weller Hauraki and Lami Tasi.

All this was then backed up with a convincing 46-10 win, away at Widnes. As you can see, it’s been a good week for the Red Devils and their fans. One that makes 2016 seem a distant memory.

I believe Salford could have a good season this year. They will make the Super 8s this time, they’re too good not to. With the current squad and a manager who looks to have now settled in nicely, who’s to say they can’t try and push for a top four spot?

This concludes the ninth edition of From The Terraces. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on Salford, and how they turned their despair into a fresh start, in the comments below.