In The Company Of David Clegg, Head Coach, Ian Watson, Leads This Week’s Between-Fixtures Update
After eighteen years of waiting, and twenty since their last win in Wigan, last Friday Salford fans were able to witness a little piece of club history, when the Red Devils came away with their first ever win at what was formerly the JJB, and is now named the DW Stadium.
And what a way it was in which to consign that lengthy drought, itself, to the history books, with a most dominant display of entertaining attacking rugby league, backed up by confident, competent, and composed defence, which for fifty minutes kept the home side pointless.  As might be expected, for Head Coach, Ian Watson, it was the team’s performance, rather than significance to us fans, that was most crucial.
“I was quite unaware that it was our first win there, until I was told after the game, and it came as something of a surprise, because we have always had some good games there,” he remarks.  “Last year’s came down to the last play the ball, from which they scored, and overturned our lead, but really this is more about us as a team and our performance, which was the most pleasing aspect, and the thing that enabled us to get the result.”
Much has been made of the injury list which is impacting on the Warriors, at the moment, but a first glance at the teamsheet, on Friday evening, showed an air of familiarity about the vast majority of the names upon it.
“They had a Super League team out there, complete, as always, with internationals, and the pack alone was one which would be a force to be reckoned with in any Super League fixture,” he insists.
“We too had eight of our players out, and we were down to the bare bones, while, although they had fourteen players out, they were still able to field a really strong Super League side.  We don’t have anything like that strength in depth, and with any other absentees we might have been looking at having to bring in loan players.
“That’s credit to Wigan, because they have a really good Youth setup, and they have a great coach in Shaun Wane, who has bred that into them.  They also have a first team squad of around thirty-six on whom they can call.  We’d prepared for the best Wigan team they have, and we realised the importance of making a really good start, which we did.
“We’ve looked at the video of the game since, and pinpointed the places where we might have increased the lead even further, but overall we played really well.”
Rather like buses that come along in pairs, the encounter was remarkable for another small piece of rugby league history, when Gareth O’Brien, that doyen of incredible drop-goals, was awarded what must surely have been the first ever, Super League three-point drop-goal.  Indeed, there seems to be little evidence of such, anywhere else, and the rule surrounding this only came into force in the late seventies, when, for some time, the ‘seven-point try’ became quite prevalent, with a try being worth three points at that time.
“I’ve never seen one before,” Ian admits, “either in any game I have played in, or any I have watched.  It raised a lot of questions around it for ourselves, such as whether we could have taken a tap, for example, but we decided just to take the extra two points, which trebled the value of the score.”
Certainly Ian and I are both agreed that referee, Mr Chris Campbell, has an extremely secure knowledge of the rules in order to be able to make a decision on such an extraordinary situation with such immediacy, in the heated cauldron of emotion, which is a Super League game.
“The referee did really well to know just how to handle the situation, because it definitely wasn’t a run-of-the-mill decision to have to make,” Ian maintains.
As in other matches, in recent weeks, the younger players all acquitted themselves really well.
“The younger players are still in the learning process,” he concedes, “but they are getting these experiences which will stand them in good stead for the future.  It’s important that we look after these guys properly and develop them the right way, because we need them to be consistent in their performances.”
Following the on-field climax to the Million Pound Game, it is safe to say that matches with Hull KR will never be quite the same again, and there are bound to be some reflections, this coming Friday, upon that last hundred seconds.  Certainly, the visitors will be travelling over with much to prove in this Challenge Cup tie.
“That is something we are going to have to be aware of, and we are going to have to be really fired up and ready for the game,” he concedes.  “They’ll be coming here to make a statement that they are a Super League team, not a Championship side.
“I’ve watched some of their games, and they are playing some really good stuff.  They have are really good all round team, which is what you’d expect from one of Tim Sheens’s teams.  It’s up to us focus on our job, and let them worry about us a bit.  We know what they will throw at us and it will be down to how we handle them, on the day.”
The involvement of our former Director of Rugby, Tim Sheens, with the Robins, will undoubtedly add another dimension to the game, with his intimate knowledge of the current Red Devils’ side in which he was a factor in the putting together.
“Tim is really smart.  He has observed us for over twelve months and knows what we can do, in terms of our standards and performance,” he acknowledges, “but we also know a lot about him, so it will be an interesting game from that point of view.
“We went to watch them play last weekend, and I’m sure both teams will have done their homework on each other.  We’ll be more aware of what Tim will throw at us than in normal circumstances.”
So, in what sounds rather like a game of chess, in which both are thinking three moves ahead, the teams will line up and make their play for a place in the draw for the quarter finals.
“On the day, it will come down to the guys on the field,” Ian states.
The highly professional, and indeed honourable, way, in which the Salford players conducted themselves, at the end of the Million Pound Game, will enable them to come out with their heads held high, in the knowledge that there should be nothing to be carried over from then, onto the field on Friday.
“Five minutes from the end, and we were in exactly that position ourselves,” Ian reflects. “Luckily for us we didn’t have to go through that, but they won’t be thinking of that – they’ll be coming here to do a professional job.  Tim will have them totally focused on playing the game rather than dwelling on the occasion, while we have to ensure we endeavour to break new ground following the Red Devilution, by progressing, for the first time, into the quarter finals.”
Referee – Mr R Hicks
Touch Judges – R Thompson, J Smith
Reserve Ref – C Smith
Reserve TJ – A Smith
Video Ref – P Bentham
Ben Murdoch-Masila
Craig Kopczak
Daniel Murray
Gareth O’Brien
Greg Johnson
Jake Bibby
Josh Jones
Junior Sa’u
Kris Welham
Kriss Brining
Lama Tasi
Lee Mossop
Logan Tomkins
Michael Dobson
Niall Evalds
Olsi Krasniqi
Rob Lui
Ryan Lannon
Weller Hauraki