The absolutely great team spirit which clearly existed throughout the squad, back then, was founded on the sheer calibre of talent spread completely throughout the team.
Among the players, who stand out in John’s memory, second row forwards, Colin Dixon and Mike Coulman, are ones he recalls with the utmost respect.
“Colin was the ultimate rugby league forward. His athleticism, talent and attitude were second to none, and his reliability in defence was steadfast.
“Both he and Mike had the physique, and the pace of foot, to be tremendous threats to every opposing side we met. They were the ones who would make the initial breaks, either by their sheer acceleration off the mark, or their strength and physique to break through attempted tackles, and I had to ensure I kept up with them to be on hand, in order to keep the moves alive.
“If then I took the ball on a bit further there were people like Keith Fielding and Maurice Richards to put in the finishing touches. They were quite different styles of winger with the sheer speed of Fielding, and then the illusive running style of Richards.”
John particularly remembers the close friendship he struck up with Stevie Nash, who moved from Featherstone shortly after John had moved from Rochdale.
“I’d been very friendly with Peter Banner, who was the regular scrum half when I arrived, but I had got to know Steve from the internationals and when he came we really got on well. He would even come round to my house to help me out with work that needed doing on it, which was extremely helpful because he had a bricklaying/building company.”
The change of scrum half, which eventually saw Banner making the reverse journey to Featherstone, directly led to a change in the style of play of the whole team, because they both had quite different styles from each other.
“Peter was more of a running scrum half, whereas Steve preferred to be among the forwards and orchestrating things there. He was terrific to play with, and so different from Peter. I’d settled into the centre by then, and we still continued to have a great attacking backline the like of which Salford had had for several seasons. Gordon Graham was a newly acquired centre who invariably took up the mantle of back substitute.”
It was not solely the stars of the team, of whom he has such lasting memories.
“Alan Grice was a player who really gave everything he had in every game he took part, while loose forward, Eric Prescott was a tremendous player. He could kick, and get a ball away to extremely good effect.
“One of the really unsung heroes of my time was another second rower, John Knighton, who first claimed his place in the side during a period when Colin was playing at loose forward, but then continued to hold onto it, despite all the intense competition for that position. That just shows how important to the side he had become.”
Operating in the centre, John had a marvellous opportunity to be able to admire the exploits of his co-centre, Chris Hesketh.
“Chris was unique in everything he did. He just played what was in front of him but had so many ploys he could use, that he kept everyone guessing as to just what he was going to do. He was also captain during my time there, and as such was quite simply the best captain I have ever played under.”
John also had the opportunity of first-hand observation of up and coming youngsters who were to become the next generation of the club, such as Sam Turnbull, Stewart Williams, and Chris McGreal.
Whilst the greater part of his time here was a relatively stable period for both him and the club, with former Salford, and Cumbrian, centre Les Bettinson, taking over the coaching role from the ailing Cliff Evans, the last few months of John’s Salford career was one of some little turbulence, with Les being replaced by a succession of short-lived appointments from within the team, including Chris Hesketh, and Colin Dixon.
The shortest of all, at this time come with the introduction of the highly experienced and much celebrated, former St Helens coach, Stan McComick, who lasted barely a couple of months (February to March 1978) before giving way to the renowned Alex Murphy.
For John, this proved to be a little problematic, owing to the personalities of the two of them.
“We didn’t seem to get along very well when he came, and I got the impression he wanted to replace me. We get on a whole lot better now, but we didn’t really gel at that time and things didn’t work out, so I eventually left to join Wigan.”
John’s Representative Honours Are The Topic At The Centre Of Part 4