Alongside David Clegg, Head Coach, Ian Watson, Looks Ahead To The First Fixture, Against Hull, In Our First Super 8s Competition
Thwarted as the Salford Red Devils may have been in their hopes of playing against Hull FC, at Wembley, on 26th August, they still do have the opportunity of facing them, for the first time, in the Super 8s, this coming Friday, and Head Coach, Ian Watson, will be looking to his charges to have put behind them any disappointment they may have had, at the outcome of last week’s Challenge Cup semi-final, in order to make a positive impact on this new dimension to the rugby league season.
“This will be one of those games after the big event,” Ian considers, “and we have to come bouncing back after it.  The whole concept of the Super 8s is new to us, with having qualified for it for the first time, and that makes it most exciting for us.
“We want to go out there every match not fearing anybody, and enjoy ourselves, because we are confident we can do really well.”
Certainly it will be a different proposition from being involved in the Qualifiers, which is where the Red Devils have found themselves over the past two years.
“This is where you want to be, competing against the top end teams,” he confirms, “and it will be good for us, going forward both as a team and as a club, so we want to take advantage of being here.
“We will just have to give it our best shot and see what we get out of it, but playing against all these good teams, week in week out, will do us a lot of good because the players will improve and learn from it, and make us better as a team, in the future.”
The mathematics of the situation is that four wins from the set of seven matches will see the club into their second semi-final of the season, and, with four home fixtures, this could help things to work out in our favour.
“That’s why we were quite down after the Leigh game, because it felt like a real disappointment to us that we might not have achieved top four status, and so have lost one of those home matches,” Ian confides.  “Until St Helens helped us out by beating Wakefield, we really thought we had let the opportunity go, but if you take the season as a whole we have done a good job to get into the position we are in.
“The thing now is to crack on, see what we can do in the Super 8s, and cause a few problems for some of the others.”
Hull’s performance against Leeds in the second half of Saturday’s other semi-final really was something to behold and showed that they are an absolutely superb team on their day.
“They showed that sort of form when they played against us, here, at the A J Bell,” agrees Ian.  “They showed certain things that day, and were an extremely good as a team, showing some of the aspects that were so impressive last weekend.
“Hull have clearly learned their lesson over the past few seasons but I do think that the way they played that day against us proved their mentality.  In addition, they have a healthy squad, and had virtually every player available for selection, last weekend, which is a great position to be in, at this stage of the season.”
As far as Hull are concerned, this is the time to which they will have working, throughout the regular season, comfortable that they would be in the mix for the end run-in.
“Some teams plan towards this part of the season, whilst we were very much gearing towards the start,” he explains.  “We had to get some wins on the board and make sure that we got ourselves in a good position early on.”
That, of course, was evident on our early season visit to the KCom Stadium, when we completely tore the Airlie Birds asunder in a rampant first half.
“We played extremely well, that evening,” concurs Ian, “and although we will have some different personnel involved this time, owing to injuries, we will be going in the same frame of mind, and with the determination to back themselves.”
The end to the club’s Challenge Cup aspirations, against Wigan, at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, on Sunday, is, nevertheless, an obstacle that they have to overcome, now that their dreams, in that direction, are no more.
“They were a little bit flat at the beginning of the week, which you would expect, but as time has worn on, there came the point at which they started to come out of that,” is his assessment.
“We were actually in that game and could have won it, had we taken our opportunities, which is what in fact Wigan did with theirs.  There was also part of the game we didn’t manage as well as Wigan did.  Some of those things come down to the experience of being in that sort of game.  It was certainly a great learning curve for us.”
The deterioration of the weather, at the start of the second half, seemed to assist Wigan in their efforts to take control, whilst hindering the Red Devils in playing to their strengths.
“We like to play with the ball,” comments Ian, “and it was pleasing that even towards the back end of the game we were still trying to move the ball around, though some of our simple little errors  came more through ourselves than through the wet conditions.
When you look back at our involvement in the Million Pound Game less than twelve months ago, to be now sitting fourth in the league and having been involved in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup is most remarkable progress by any stretch of the imagination.
“The players have been outstanding, and have shown that throughout the season,” praises Ian, “and they should be congratulated for this.  They are competitive people, which is a quality you always look for, have done a great job so far, and have a whole lot more opportunities ahead of them.”
Referee – Mr J Smith
Touch Judges – P Brooke, A Tolley
In-Goal Judges – D Bowmer, J Stearne
Reserve Ref – S Race