David Clegg Relays The Views Of Head Coach, Ian Watson, Ahead Of Sunday’s Slot At The Magic Weekend
Once the delight at the Salford Red Devils’, hitherto elusive, progression into the draw for the quarter finals, had subsided, the reflection on the win that took us there began, and whilst there was much satisfaction at the later stages of the encounter with Hull KR, there were those who admitted to a few nervous moments, midway through the first forty.
A seemingly bright start soon appeared to fizzle out, and, as the Red Devils started to look somewhat more uncertain, so the confidence of the visitors grew – an issue, which Head Coach, Ian Watson was keen to address with his charges, in their match review.
“We started the game really strongly,” he agrees, “and created a few opportunities which we were unable to take. I think we felt we could open up the Rovers at any opportunity, which is a trap you can easily fall into, whereas we had to be resilient then and stick to our plans.
“As it happened we gave them a way in, and we ended up in a battle which took us almost up to half-time, but then we came out with a lot more determination about us, which together with a change of tack, brought us the victory, which is what a cup tie is all about.”
Our undoing, points-wise, in that early period, came, most unexpectedly, as a result of an old-school, blindside move, which the Robins successfully used on three occasions, two of which elicited converted tries, and led to their building of a fourteen point lead.
“They also utilised some long-unused tactics around the scrum,” Ian observes, “but we knew they would throw those at us because we’d seen them utilising them in a previous game. We had shown these to our players on video, in our preparation, but unfortunately, Josh Jones found his way out of the scrum blocked, and was unable to join the defence.
“The old moves are usually the best, because it’s not that they’ve gone out of fashion, it’s just knowing when to put them in. They caught us out this time around.”
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, however, and it was to our utmost delight that Salford turned the tables on the Rovers by reproducing the self-same move, which gave us Kriss Brining’s try, which must have utterly deflated the visitors, who were caught equally by surprise from the base of the scrum.
“It was a little bit of tit-for-tat, with us doing back to them exactly what they had done to us,” adds Ian with notable satisfaction.
Not for the first time this season, interchange prop, Craig Kopczak, caught out both the visiting Robins, and many of us, with the turn of pace he showed to go through for his try under the posts.
“He has good leg speed,” agrees Ian, “which is something you want from your middle of the field players, so that when they do make a break they are able to make something of it. To be fair, Craig has really lifted the intensity of our game when he has come off the bench, as have done a couple of others.”
Having conceded those fourteen points in that first thirty minutes, there was never going to be any danger, though, of the Red Devils allowing the Humbersiders to improve upon this, over the remainder of the game.
“We tweaked a few things at half time, identifying the things that we needed to be better at,” he explains. “It’s a good sign for us when you can find yourself in a bit of a spot during the game and are able to turn it round and come through the winners.
“There was a time when we were coming out the loser in those tight games, so it’s good that we have been able to flip it in our favour, by putting in a decent performance in the second half.”
With the extremely high profile in which the Magic Weekend will put rugby league, over this coming weekend, the players will have the opportunity of displaying their skills and talents to a much wider audience some of which will be packed into the St James’s Stadium, and even more on TV.
“It’s good for us because it’s at a neutral venue and it is a big occasion, as well,” he agrees, “which can really lift your energy levels. In some respects it’s like the semi-final of a cup, because, besides there being two league points at stake, it’s a one –off game, which affects the way you approach and prepare for it.
“Further down the line, this experience will stand us in good stead should we be involved in even bigger games.”
As far as the league table is concerned, this game is a one on its own, for which there is no return encounter, so the teams which end up on the winning side will steal a march not only on their opponents on the day, but possibly on others in their vicinity in the table.
“Much of it can hinge upon whom you are chosen to play against,” Ian considers. “In our case this time, it is a derby game against Leigh, and this will be a good game for our supporters to get behind us, and to enjoy the day, or in some cases, the weekend. It is one game to which we are especially looking forward, as players and coaches.”
As if to underline the importance of the occasion, the club has decided to travel over, on the Saturday, and stay overnight in readiness for the match on the Sunday afternoon.
“We have a later kick-off than recently, with being the middle game of the second day, but we still thought it preferable to get the travelling out of the way, the day before,” he continues. “When you play in any of the bigger games you end up staying over, just as we did for the Million Pound Game.
“It ensures you are there, and rested up, without any additional pressure on the lads.”
For opponents Leigh, this will be their first involvement in Magic, all their previous experience having been in the Blackpool Bash.
“A lot of their players have prior Super League experience, though,” counters Ian. “Players like Harrison Hansen have all been involved in past Magic Weekends. One or two of their lads who have been retained from the Championship will find it new, because, for example, they would travel up on the day to Blackpool, rather than staying overnight, and so this will be a different preparation for them.
“It might also give them the opportunity to express themselves a little bit more than usual, with it being a one off game.”
Being the third successive year in which the event has been held up in the North East, is evidence as to how well the event has been staged in those two previous visits.
“Everything has run really well, up in Newcastle over the past couple of years,” concurs Ian, “and to get that number of teams there, with everything running so smoothly as it has done is credit to them and their facilities.”
Referee – Mr J Child
Touch Judges – S Kilpatrick R Thompson
Reserve Ref – J Smith
Reserve TJ – M Griffiths
Video Ref – R Hicks