That four week run of high profile matches, which commenced with the televised game against St Helens, culminates this Sunday with arguably the highest profile of all, with our visit up to Newcastle for the Magic Weekend.
The importance of both the occasion, and the encounter there with Catalans Dragons is very much to the forefront of Head Coach Ian Watson’s focus.
Watson said: “It’s a really big showpiece, with the feel of both the Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final with all the Super League teams being involved, it generates a similar profile to each of those, not only for rugby league as a whole, but also for the individual players.”
Indeed, over and above both of these other two events, this is the one occasion each year when every club, every player, and every fan has the opportunity of being involved, or watching their own team participating, in a big occasion, whilst Ian adds a coach’s perspective to the concept.
“It’s also an opportunity to see the majority of all the other Super League players in action. It has also become a bit of a feeding ground for the NRL clubs, who send their agents and CEO’s over to assess the talent on display. It’s a great spectacle too for the supporters.
“Nevertheless, there is the seriousness of two league points being at stake, which has been our focus for the week.”
As supporters we might have expected that the coaching staff would have been endeavouring to get the specialness of the occasion into the preparations for the team but Ian belies this assumption.
Watson said: “The main thing for us is to take the emotion out of it all, and putting the showpiece element aside, in order to focus on the game, particularly after last week’s disappointment at Leigh.
“One penalty on the fifth tackle followed by a try under the posts swung the game away from us after we had seemed to be on fire, moments earlier. If you give teams opportunities by failing to complete your sets it is an absolute killer and we were embarrassed by our second half completion rate.
“That, along with decision-making, has been a big aspect of our preparations, this week, because we need to improve on these and look forward positively.
“We had a great training session today [Thursday], with good ball skills, lines run, execution of plays, and decision making on the edges.”
It will be remembered that Sunday’s opponents, Catalans, were the team against whom we played at home last season just a few days after the Manchester Arena bombing, on which occasion donations, in lieu of admission fee, went to the resultant We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.
One year on, on the self-same weekend of the bombing, the Red Devils will be sporting the shirt, dedicated to the memory of the victims and voted – by an extremely large majority – the most impressive of all Magic Weekend shirts on display this year by fans via the Super League Twitter page.
“When you line all that up, it does bring that tragedy into focus and, of course, having that particular shirt, in support of such a noteworthy charity is magnificent especially with it being almost to the day on which it all happened. We, ourselves, though, must remain clear in our vision of getting winning points on the day.”
That those tragic events came so close to last year’s Magic Weekend certainly will not be lost on Salford fans, many of whom might well have caught the train up to Newcastle, the day before, from a platform on Victoria Station, in very close proximity to where the blast was to be detonated.
“Because it happened so close to home it feels much more real, and so there is a lot more sentiment around it. We shall be continuing this on Friday next, at the Huddersfield game, when we shall entertain guests affected by the bombing.
“In our own way, through all of this, the club is simply paying its respects to all the victims.”
With Catalans being the one team whom, this year, we shall be playing three times, it would seem imperative, therefore, that we should win at least a majority of these, which means that Sunday’s fixture becomes crucial in this respect, though it comes just as the Dragons are showing signs of improvement.
“They had been playing well ahead of our Good Friday match with them, but for us now, over the next few weeks it’s all about getting the wins, starting with this one, and we are confident that we have the quality within the squad to be able to do this.”