In The Company Of David Clegg, Head Coach, Ian Watson, Looks Ahead To Thursday’s Challenge Cup Quarter Final With Wakefield
The dream of walking out at Wembley, at the start of the Challenge Cup Final, is in every player’s DNA, and that dream comes one step nearer with every passing round.  Already, as the Salford Red Devils, the team is in uncharted territory by making Thursday evening’s quarter final for the first time since their rebrand.
For our players it will be an interlude in their drive for a top four place in the league table, but with it comes the lure of a semi-final spot, which, as Head Coach, Ian Watson points out, brings its own degree of motivation to the squad.
“Everyone wants to compete and win no matter what game it is, but with a place in the cup semi-final at stake it is that little bit more special, so the motivation is immediately there to get to it,” he concurs.
“Without letting it get to us, we need to let the occasion generate our momentum, so that we can then win on the back of our processes within the game.”
One difference in this fixture, from virtually all our previous matches, is that it comes almost immediately upon a league encounter with the same opposition, with only last Friday’s outing against Hull to separate them, and just how that earlier game will impact upon this one is very much an unknown quantity, but impact upon it, it will.
“The more you see of a team, the more you learn about them,” maintains Ian.  “Over a short period of time you learn these things more quickly, as they are fresh in your mind.
“When we played Wigan for the return match at the DW, it was a completely different game from the opening round of the season here, with changes of personnel, tactics, and things to look at, whereas the last match against Wakefield will prove to have been much more relevant to this coming game.”
Not only that, there is also the issue as to how the result of that previous occasion will affect the attitudes of the two groups.  One would certainly hazard a guess that it will have buoyed up the visitors, who will believe the initiative is now with them.  Ian, however, understandably refuses to be drawn into that type of speculation.
“We’ve got to focus upon ourselves, rather than being pulled into their issues,” he insists.  “We have to believe in what we do, in order to get a successful outcome.”
Following last weekend’s reversal, at the hands of Hull, Salford fans have had to come to terms with something they have not had to experience before, this season – two back to back losses.  So well have our players been performing, throughout the last three months, that solitary one-off setbacks have been few and far between – something of which Ian has the right to be extremely proud.
“We have been through two tough games which have not gone our way,” he acknowledges, “so it is now up to us to learn from these by identifying elements which took each of them away from us.  We know we are a good team, so we need to focus on that and take it into this coming game.
“Hull played as well as they have all season.  When we reviewed the game on Saturday morning, it revealed them doing things that we have been working really hard on.  It is pleasing to know that they are investing in similar ideas to us, because it shows that, when we are at our best, we will be competitive and beat teams.”
Both Hull and Wakefield seemed to have extremely well organised defences, with players appearing to be in the right places, at the right times.  Ian, however, puts the responsibility for the two defeats onto his own players.
“We made too many errors with quite low completion rates,” he reveals.  “That means that we were not able to pose enough questions of their defences, but we are a group which is still in the process of learning, and we are improving all the time.
The absence of Greg Johnson from his wing position has deprived the team of his notable impact with his carries forward, early in the tackle sequence
“Greg has been great for us this season,” is Ian’s assessment.  “He gives us opportunity to gather some momentum against an organised defensive line.  Jake Bibby was outstanding in this respect against Hull, and got us on the front foot really well.”
Undoubtedly, we will all be hoping for a better start against Trinity, this time around, following former Red Devils’ winger, Mason Caton-Brown, early opportunity to scorch down field for the opening try, in our previous outing against them.
“He’s got serious pace, and in the clear no-one is going to catch him.  He did exactly the same thing, last weekend, against Leeds,” agrees Ian.
The benefit of a place in the semi-finals, however, would be considerable to the club after so many recent setbacks.
“Considering where we started from, the benefits of getting through would be enormous,” he predicts.  “We now have to strive to achieve higher expectations.  We have achieved our first target of the season – getting into the top eight – but we want to keep moving up, so it is now on to the Challenge Cup.  We just need to be confident going into the game.”
Referee – Mr R Hicks
Touch Judges – M Griffiths, S Mikalauskas
Reserve Ref – P Brooke
Reserve TJ – G Jones
Video Ref – P Bentham