Written by John Davidson
Photo by Getty Images
Along with London, Salford were the pick of a lot of people as the club to be relegated this Super League season.
The reasons were many – their wealthy backer is gone. They have only 25 players to call on, a small fanbase and faced some issues, eventually sorted, in covering their wage bill in December. Recruitment has been lean.
The Red Devils were in the bottom four in 2018 and had to fight their way out of the Middle Eights. A big injury crisis, like the one they suffered last year, could prove costly again.
That may be all true, but Salford are not letting it stop them in 2019. They have started this campaign like a house on fire, undefeated after two rounds with dominant victories over Huddersfield and then London.
Against Giants they only conceded two tries and managed to pile on 34 points in response. Against the Broncos they didn’t concede a point and racked up 24. Ian Watson, one of the most talented young coaches in the British game, has got them humming in both attack and defence.
Fullback Niall Evalds is leading all of Super League with four tries in two games. Winger Ken Sio is second in the competition with three tries. Halfback Jason Hastings is equal top in try assists with four.
Yes it is only two rounds in, far too early to get carried away. There is a lot of footy to be played. But the early signs for the Red Devils are positive.
In Hastings and Lui, they have arguably the best halves partnership in Super League. Former Sea Eagle and Roosters Hastings is a real contender for the Man of Steel award this year. In Evalds and Lussick as well, they have an impressive spine.
In Junior Sa’u and Sio they have solid outside backs. With Mark Flanagan, Tyrone McCarthy and Josh Jons they have a quality back-row, while Lee Mossop, Gil Dudson, Ben Nakubuwai and Greg Burke give them grunt up front.
Being written off largely by the media and many fans has spurred Salford on. While publicly they say it hasn’t bothered them, clearly it has provided further motivation in their ranks.
Asked yesterday after the London win if his side was proving a point to critics, Watson took the opportunity to bring up mention Sky Sports pundits Bill Arthur and Terry O’Connor, who covered the Catalans vs Huddersfield on pay TV.
“If you listened to Sky the other day I don’t think we should be in the league, the way they were talking,” the coach said.
“With Bill and Terry saying how Huddersfield should have never lost a game to us and stuff like that. But that’s for them, that’s for people to have their opinions.
“People had them at the start of the season, said us and London will be down there and will be relegated. It’s only two games in, we’ll see who’s right at the end of it.”
Quietly confident is the best way to describe Watson and his men. They believe in themselves, and in their ability.
This Sunday they face Leeds, a team without a win and suffering some early struggles under new coach David Furner. It could be argued that this is the perfect time for the on-form Salford to play the rusty Rhinos. The Red Devils are rightly favourites going into this game.
“Leeds will be fired up,” Watson said.
“They’ll come here ready to play. They’ve got a new coach, they’ve lost the first two opening games. But they’re still a good team.
“They’ve had a tough opening with the games they’ve had, but we’re confident as a group. We don’t need to shout about it, we just need to go about our business and do our job.”
In 2018 Widnes won just four out of 30 games. In 2017 the Vikings won 10 out of 30. In 2016, when Salford avoided relegation through the Million Pound Game, they won 13 of 30 games. Hull KR, the club that went down, won 10 and Huddersfield 11.
In 2015, the first year of the Super 8s system, Wakefield won only six of 30 matches and Salford 13. And in 2014 the Broncos were relegated with just one victory from 27 fixtures, while Bradford had eight victories.
There is no clear magic number, but somewhere between seven and 11 wins might be enough to make the Red Devils safe this season.
It is only February but they could have already three precious victories in the bag by the end of this Sunday.