In The Company Of David Clegg, Head Coach. Ian Watson, Looks Ahead To The 2018 Season
Following upon what undoubtedly turned out to be Salford’s best season for a decade, in 2017, all eyes are now fully turned upon the coming season, and the hope that this will see a replication, and even improvement, upon last year’s highlights which, by mid-season, we were all coming to take for granted.
Nothing, however, can ever be taken for granted, as our rather less impressive run in the Super 8s showed, and it has been evident from a number of other clubs that one-off good seasons are extremely difficult to build upon, and the following season finds them out. Being aware of this, and consequently prepared for it to be a more challenging competition for his charges than last year, is a part of what Head Coach, Ian Watson, has been focussing upon during the close season.
“There is always a process you have to go through to get to your ultimate goal, and last season was a great step forward for us, both as a team and as a club, and took us some way through that process,” he insists. “There were a considerable number of new experiences which provided learning opportunities which will certainly help us in the future.
“Playing the best teams in intensity games, as in the Super 8s, was an education in itself.”
One aspect of the season which probably, as supporters, passed us by, was the fact that we played more games than almost any other club, having had to play in an extra round of the Challenge Cup through having finished in the bottom four in 2016, and then going on to feature in all the rounds right up to the semi-final. Consequently, whilst other sides were getting a breather on some of those occasions, the Salford players were being called upon to perform in crucial cup ties.
“We handled the season really well, but to have to play so many extra games did catch us out a bit at the backend of the season,” Ian concedes. “There were probably things we could and should have done, but you only learn those from hindsight, having been in that situation.
“Whilst finishing fourth at the end of the regular season was rewarding in itself, it was seeing the way the team developed and rose to the occasions which was most rewarding. Our aim this year is to develop, and move on even further.”
Having possibly sailed under the radar, somewhat, last year, many of the teams who found themselves caught out by the resurgent Red Devils will be more than ready and prepared for them, this season.
“That happens to players as individuals, as well, where a new player can have an absolutely great first season, but then find that he have been sussed out by opposing teams the following year, and finds it much harder,” agrees Ian. “It is up to us to deal with this by the way we approach games and then use our own strengths, so that our opponents have to worry about us.
“It’s about us having a really good focus and that we are mentally prepared week after week.”
With a number of new players coming into the squad, Ian is firmly of the opinion that the overall quality across it has been improved.
“The depth of our squad overall was fine last year, but it turned out to be a lack of depth in quality that found us out towards the end, and if we want to be a top side competing with the best, we have to have that depth of quality,” he maintains.
“The area which stood out for me in this respect was the pack, and when this is not strong enough you are never going to compete, no matter how magnificent those behind the scrum might be. This year, therefore, is about having a really strong competition for places every week, and this has been our priority in recruitment.
“It also is worth remembering that it is much easier to move a forward into the backs than the other way round, so having players with that ability is particularly important, especially with our having a smaller squad. It’s like having two players in one.
One such of these, Ian points to, is Jake Bibby who can move from wing to centre to second row, and he, along with a number of other younger players in the squad, will be expected to show further progress in their development to be competing alongside everyone else for places in the squad, week by week.
“Daniel Murray was outstanding for us at the back end of last season, despite not having had any prior experience of Super 8s rugby,” Ian proudly acknowledges. “He, Ryan Lannon, and Kriss Brining, among others, should now be ready to play regularly, which will enable them to progress further.”
Looking through the fixtures, one can immediately spot the points where decisions or circumstances, which will aid the team through the marathon that is a rugby league season, have changed. Two, as opposed to three, friendly games have been arranged, and for the first time, this year, we will enjoy a blank weekend for the World Club Challenge. Continuing progress through the Challenge Cup, however, is sacrosanct, results permitting.
“True, these do bring more tough games, but you just want to be involved in them, if possible,” he counters. “We want to be a competitive team, and the players themselves are competitive people who want to win every game, be that Challenge Cup, friendly or league.
“Most important of all I want to see our players stepping up again from last year, so that everyone throughout rugby league fully regard us as a top eight team.”