David Clegg Reports The Views Of Head Coach, Ian Watson, On The Season’s Opener Against Wigan
Following what the majority of spectators regarded as a most encouraging performance,in their final pre-season friendly, at home against Hull, Head Coach, Ian Watson, most surely had good reason to allow himself a certain amount of satisfaction over the way in which the run-up to the season has unfolded. Three victories out of three, against increasingly difficult opposition, is as much as anyone could have wished for.
“The performance against Hull was the culmination of what we have been aiming for throughout the close season,” he professes, “and it was good to see elements of the things we have been working on during that time. We are now well prepared for the Super League season, itself.”
One of the areas which must have impressed everyone was the defence, because there were times when we were put under significant pressure, but stood up to it, resolutely.
“You are always going to be tested when you play top sides,” he considers. “The idea of playing Hull as the third of our friendlies was to get us up to full Super League speed. What won it for us was the attitude of the players, and their desire, in defence.
“Players won’t always make perfect tackles, but what everyone absolutely must do is to work for one another, and that is what they did, above all else. The victory came on the back of that.”
Undoubtedly there was evidence, later in the game, of how that defence appeared to blunt the Hull attack, from the number of uncharacteristic, unforced errors, such as wild passes thrown into touch, and, also, passing behind the player.
“If you defend aggressively it forces the other team into trying off the cuff plays, and that is what leads to errors,” Ian explains. “It is something we had come to pride ourselves on, last season, but, at times, we weren’t always consistent in doing so, and that consistency is what we are after, this year.
“Wigan, on the other hand, didn’t always show off their attack at its best, but their defence was the best in the league, and they ended up winning the Grand Final. So, if we defend as well as we did against Hull, throughout the season, we’ll be in very good shape.”
One subplot to the main encounter was the battle of the Griffins, in which George clearly came out, on top, much, I would suspect, to the delight of Ian.
“He got a really good shot on Josh, early on, and then ran a great angle, against him, for a try,” he remembers with a smile. “George has got that utility value, and can play a few different positions, which helps the squad considerably, and he’s a very good player overall.”
Not that George was the only one to go to town on the opposing Griffin.
“You have to expect a bit of special treatment when you play against your ex-teammates,” Ian acknowledges. “On one occasion, Josh was tackling Greg Johnson, but it was Greg who made sure he came out on top, leaving Josh on the floor, though they will both, no doubt, have been happy to meet up afterwards for a couple of drinks. That’s how it is at the top level; you develop that kind of respect for one another. It comes through during the game, and then again, afterwards.”
Last season, the third and final preseason friendly had been against Wigan, with the first match of the season, away at Hull – almost a complete reversal of this season’s arrangements. Most notably, the Red Devils gave an inspired performance to beat the Warriors, and one might be forgiven for hoping that this might go some way to motivating a repetition. That, however, is not how Ian sees things.
“That was too long ago to carry any impact, now,” he insists. “Players have come and gone, since then, and we wouldn’t want to start this season in the same way as we did at Hull, last year. We are better prepared this time; we just have to go out and do our job with the right mentality throughout the team.”
With the bulk of the squad already having had twelve months experience of playing together, and having been strengthened in certain areas, one can readily see good reason for his optimism.
“Our players went through a lot together, last year, both on and off the field,” he reminds us, “and this galvanised them, considerably.
“The new players who have come in have been brought in for a reason. We had watched them, last year, and been impressed with the things they do, and they will all enhance the values that we hold close, as a group. We shall feed all their attributes into the team.”
One person, whom, I am sure, everyone will be pleased to see back in a Salford shirt, is Lama Tasi, and from first-hand knowledge form speaking to him, I know just how glad he is to be back with us.
“Lama has the advantage of having been here before, and of knowing the boys already,” Ian explains. “He is absolutely suited for what we need, has fitted in perfectly, and performed really well in pre-season, which we hope now will continue into the season, itself.
“He has always enjoyed his time, here, and you play your best rugby when you are enjoying yourself.”
The acquisition of young Kriss Brining has definitely got people talking, after his eye-catching performances in the three friendlies.
“Kriss is the perfect example of everything you want your hooker to do,” Ian agrees. “He has all the off-the-ball work-ethic of Tommy Lee, whom he is replacing, together with a strong running game. So having identified these strengths it is important now to play to these within the team.
“Alongside him, other younger players are showing their fettle. Josh Wood has done really well in getting back involved so quickly after his recovery from injury, and he has had a great pre-season. Matty Wilkinson has come on well, also, and handled himself particularly so in contact, against Hull. Jake Bibby and Ryan Lannon both played a number of games last year, which will stand them in good stead for this season, because we know that they can go straight into the side and do a good job for us.
“We want this competition for places, and all the boys know that there are others who can play in their position, so that puts pressure on them all.
“On Saturday, we will want to see everything that we have been putting in place, over the close season, being built upon and taken to a higher level still, and if the players do that throughout the year, it could put us in the top half of the table, at the end of the season.”
Referee – Mr B Thaler
Touch Judges – A Martin, M Craven
In Goal Judges – M Hawkes, P Parker
Reserve Referee – S Houghton
KO – 13.15
19 MAN SQUAD