For the first time in several weeks, the Salford Red Devils will be taking the field, on Thursday, against a team, which, like ourselves, is coming into it on the back of a run of defeats, in an encounter of which the outcome has become quite crucial, as Head Coach, Ian Watson, readily acknowledges.
“It will definitely be a battle out there, because both teams will desperate to get the points, and there is no denying that Widnes are a really good team.”
The recent exchange of players between the two clubs will also bring some added interest, with Salford seemingly benefitting from a two for one increase in their playing roster.
“We’ve got two young, quality British players, with bags of potential. Unfortunately, Widnes would only allow us to have them if we swapped Weller in exchange, and he was agreeable to the move himself, so the deal went ahead.
“Ed Chamberlain is a right centre but can also play wing and fullback, has good footwork and skill with ball in hand, and reads the game very well, both in defence and on attack. In many respects he is like Kris Welham who has been outstanding for us recently, with his work ethic.
“Greg has had a lot of Super League experience, with both Wigan, Hull KR, and Widnes. He is extremely good at working for the team off the ball, has a robust style of play, and a good offload which will bring an additional dimension to our attack.
“One, or possibly both of them, will be involved in Thursday’s match.”
With a run of defeats behind them, however, confidence for both teams may well be starting to diminish.
“Although that is a factor for us, it is only a small one because for large parts of games we are doing the right things but are just not keeping them going consistently, throughout.
“Against Hull, for example, we contained Hull in their own half for long periods of the second half, but then on the one opportunity we let them out, they scored.”
Looking back over that game, it becomes evident, on reflection, just how much luck was against the Salford players, with Craig Kopczak, for example, being prevented from scoring, not by the Hull defence but by the goalpost. In addition, earlier, on their first foray into the home side’s twenty metre area, a well-intentioned, and in fact well-executed, pass, which should have led to the opening of the Red Devils’ account, was intercepted in an almost perfect replication of Wigan, and former England captain, Sean O’Loughlin’s intercepted pass twenty-four hours earlier, at Wakefield.
“That’s the sort of thing that seems to happen, when you are playing away from home. The bounce of the ball goes against you, and fifty-fifty calls appear more difficult to come by, though we really have been our own worst enemy at times.”
It, nevertheless, had been a game of two halves with the visitors commanding possession, and field position, for the second forty, and outscoring their hosts in that period.
“We looked more like ourselves in that second half, and the only things which did go amiss were the odd, technical, little things, which, in comparison to the errors of the first half, are easy to fix. What has been really hurting us is that in virtually every game we have been having to do over a hundred tackles more than the opposition, as a result of our own errors in possession.
“All this extra tackling leads to fatigue, which in turn leads to a loss of concentration, and so teams have then been able to catch us with scores on the last play, which then affects confidence.”
The second half turn around, it must be hoped, could be the portender of further improved performances to come, and the continuation of that second half form, at Hull, would be most welcome from the start, for Thursday’s televised encounter.
“Hopefully that will have picked up their confidence, because not only might it have put them on the right path, it also brings with it the belief in our systems and processes.
“Any pressure we might feel to be under for this next match is only what we are putting on ourselves. If we can eradicate the inconsistencies in our recent games, the pressure will quickly be lifted.”
The loss of fullback, Niall Evalds, for a number of matches, was undoubtedly a setback which the club as a whole could have done without, but Ian’s policy of recruiting players who can turn their hand to more than one position came up trumps again, last week, with Jack Littlejohn taking up the fullback role, and looking completely at home there.
“Jack did very well, particularly considering that his only previous experience there, had been a couple of games, maximum, at Sydney Roosters at U20s level. The good thing about him though is he is ‘rugby smart’, and really understands the game, so he picked up all the pointers we put his way, really quickly.
“The fact that he was a halfback moving to that position also gave us back some of the elements we had lost when Gareth O’Brien left, and so our wingers scored a couple of tries for the first time in quite a while. Hopefully we can build on that over the coming weeks.”