David Clegg Meets With Head Coach, Ian Watson, To Review Friday’s Performance At Hull, And Preview The Easter Weekend’s Fixtures
Winning runs of as many as four games have been a considerable rarity for Salford teams, over many seasons, but when one factors in the very nature of the sides which have fallen victim to the rampant Red Devils, in this current one, the admiration this invokes is considerable in the extreme.
Having already defeated top of the table Castleford, en route, it was Hull, the side sitting third who were the most recent to experience the effects of Salford’s blistering attack, as the visitors ran riot to notch up fifty-four points to register their biggest winning margin in Super League. The small, but unbelievably vocal band of supporters, who had battled their way through the most horrendous of traffic conditions to get there, must have been filled with the utmost pride, as they made the far more uneventful return journey home.
And not just the fans, for there was much in their performance, in which players and coaches alike can take both pride and pleasure, as Head Coach, Ian Watson acknowledges.
“I was really pleased and proud of the group,” he concedes. “There are just a few little areas which we need to fix up, from Friday’s performance. We were great when attacking, but there were one or two occasions when we were not quite up to our standards in defence.”
It was certainly Hull who were first out of the blocks, at the start of both halves, and it was in these two periods that they posted all their points.
“The start to each half were the periods which we have spoken about during our team review, and which we need to work on, and put to rights, in readiness for the Leigh game,” he insists.
Just as in the Widnes match, which was similar to the Hull encounter in many respects, the Red Devils were stretched to deal with the increased pressure from the home side.
“It was down to some of the detail in our play which was not quite right,” he explains. “When you have a bit of a lead, you can expect the other team to come out, chance their arm and try a few different things, which is what Hull did on Friday. Quite a bit of it worked for them too, and it is something we need to look at and learn from.”
Ian may well regard the team’s performances as a work in progress, but I think we would all agree it is coming along marvellously.
“That is down to the calibre of the people involved, who are a good squad as a whole,” he maintains. “They are always keen to make improvements, and that has become our main focus, as a team and a group.”
Unsurprisingly, he singles out the team’s attacking prowess, as the strongest part of the Hull outing, but he also points to their game management in the second half.
“It came as a result of Hull getting a bit of a sting in their tail,” he recalls, “but, the way we managed that, helped us turn the game back in our favour. Rob Lui, Michael Dobson, and Todd Carney, when he came on, started kicking early in the tackle count, and finding the touchline, which helped considerably by giving the rest of the team the right message.
“it was really pleasing the way they managed the game instead of trying to force things, because it would have been easy to have got drawn into that bit of an arm wrestle, which could have caused us some trouble, had we done,” is Ian’s assessment
In addition, there were a couple of crucial moments in the game itself, which helped turn the game back in Salford’s favour.
“Two things happened around the same time,” he remembers. “There was the sin-binning of Justin Carney, followed in the next set by that big hit from Benny Murdoch on Marc Sneyd, which really gave the players the impetus they needed to get back on top, and we started to defend how we can do from then on.”
The last time that Salford achieved four wins in a row was back in 1997, when the fourth and final victory was secured by means of a drop-goal in the dying seconds of the game against Sheffield Eagles, from a young half-back by the name of Ian Watson. Now twenty years later, Ian is endeavouring to guide his charges to surpass that run of four wins, by going on to record further victories over the coming Easter weekend.
The visit of Leigh, on Good Friday, provides the Red Devils with something which has been lacking in our annual fixture list for all but one season of Super League, and that is a genuine local derby match. That we have one this year is all to the good because the close proximity of the two protagonists markedly intensifies the rivalry between the participating clubs, and indeed, everyone has been gearing up for this ever since the final whistle sounded on their respective games, last weekend.
One further reason for such heightened rivalry is the unpredictability of such matches, as Ian knows all too well.
“The form book goes completely out of the window in these games,” he acknowledges. “It’s a big game for us though, because it is all part of what we want to do and what we want to achieve, so it is important that we keep our focus not on emotion but on the game, which is what we have been doing, and then keeping to our processes and taking the right options.”
Meanwhile the Leigh side is littered with a number of former Salford players who will undoubtedly be out to impress, and make their mark on the proceedings.
“There are lot of them in there,” Ian concedes, “with the likes of Harrison Hansen and Corey Paterson, all of whom will really be up for it, and anxious to get one over on us. It will be up to us to maintain our focus and ensure they don’t do that.”
With only two days, one of which will be consumed by the travelling, between the Leigh game and our visit to Perpignan to lock horns with Les Catalans Dragons, preparation time is going to be somewhat at a premium, for the second of these.
“It’s certainly not much of a turnaround,” Ian agrees, “but Easter is Easter, and every team has to deal with that. We are just going to have to get our heads down, knuckle down and deal with it ourselves.
“We were originally going to be travelling on Saturday, but unfortunately, we had our flight cancelled, so we are now having to go on the Sunday. At least, looking on the bright side, it gives us a little more time to recover back at home, though it also means we shall have less time to settle in and prepare over there, once we arrive. We’ll just have to go in, get the job done and then get back out.”
Notoriously unpredictable as the visits to Catalans are, Ian consoles us by pointing out, “Whenever you are playing away from home, and wherever that is, you are not going to get the rub of the green on the whole, so we will just have to bother about the things that are within our control, and make sure that we do a good job.
“Catalans will have a better turn around period than us because their first Easter fixture is on Wednesday, at Huddersfield, giving them an extra couple of days’ recovery.
“It is going to be a real mindset for us making sure we are really focussed on the Leigh game, and then doing likewise with Catalans.”
With a relatively fit and healthy squad ahead of the weekend, Ian will have the options of utilising more of his playing roster than in previous weeks.
“We shall just have to see where we get to after the Leigh game, player-wise, because there will be a few knocks and niggles picked up, which could sideline one or two of them,” he predicts.
With an important Challenge Cup tie awaiting them, on their return, against the rapidly developing Toronto Wolfpack, one thing Ian is absolutely insistent upon is that that particular encounter against a range of former Super League and Championship players, provides no refuge, whatsoever, for resting any of his players, to assist their recovery after the demands of two games in four days, compounded by two thousand miles of travel on top of that.
MATCH OFFICIALS AWAY FIXTURE v CATALANS
Referee – Mr P Bentham
Touch Judges – P Graham, G Dolan
Video Ref – J Child
19 MAN SQUAD v CATALANS