A fifty point total in Sunday’s first outing of the season, against nearest neighbours, and local rivals, Swinton, must have been just what Head Coach, Ian Watson, had wanted from his charges, and the fact that the valiant Lions had forced his team to earn every one of those points, is testament to the talent which lies within the Red Devils’ ranks.
Super League opposition, in the form of an away encounter at the home of the Warrington Wolves, will, however, be a sterner test of the progress that has been made in their becoming the accomplished and competitive unit into which he is requiring they turn themselves.
True, the Wolves had problems of their own, last season, and despite a magnificent showing in the World Club Challenge in defeating Brisbane Broncos 27-18, they then found further victories few and far between, eventually ending up participating in the Qualifiers – something well below the standard to which a club of their calibre aspires to achieve.
That, however, is all history now, and with a brand new Head Coach, in the form of Australian Steve Price, significant additions to to strengthen the playing roster, and a full close season in which to progress back into top four contention, they will undoubtedly be looking at making an impact in this their first home match of 2018.
“They also have got one of our lads, in Benny [Murdoch-Masila]” Ian wryly reminds us. “They certainly will have much they will want to prove to their home fans, their coach, and themselves.
“Warrington are a really big club from bottom to top, and have always been competitive, but last year they lost a lot of players early on to injury, and that quality of player is hard to replace, as Wigan also showed later in the season.
“Whatever else happens, therefore, they will be coming out to impress, come Saturday.”
Having turned out in a local derby against Widnes, over Christmas, which the Vikings, with home advantage, won , 26-22, the Wolves would seemingly have already had experience of Super League opposition, which is a bonus the Salford players would have had to endeavour to nullify, but Ian tells us differently.
“Their friendly against Widnes contained a lot of younger players on both sides, but the Widnes lads really shone, having had quite a lot of first team experience, last year,” he informs us.
Having already alluded to the attacking threat which is Ben Murdoch-Masila, one might wonder whether there might be any special attention paid in that direction to a former team of such World Cup accomplishment, but that, Ian points out, is not the purpose of friendly games.
“That will come later in the season, when the results really matter,” he expects. “Benny’s a great bloke and was one of us, but there will be nothing more than a bit of friendly banter, on Saturday. When we get to the league game it really is different, with it being so competitive.
“Keen as we are to win every game, including the friendlies, it has to be remembered that there is a bigger picture, so, for example we would not keep somebody out on the field for the full eighty minutes, just to get a win in a friendly match, which might then impact negatively on the player, afterwards.
“The biggest thing about these friendly games is the physical contact they provide, and getting the lads used to that once again, so that they are physically ready to play Wigan in our first Super League fixture.”