Alongside David Clegg, Head Coach, Ian Watson, Looks Back At The Toronto Cup Tie, And Ahead To The Home Encounter With Widnes
Eager as we all were, in the run up to last weekend’s Challenge Cup tie, to welcome and watch the pioneers of Canadian rugby league, the bonhomie had, to a certain extent, dissipated by the time the final curtain came down on the match, as a result of the visitors’ reliance on the more physical aspects of the game, which led to the Salford players’ picking up a number of bumps and bruises, twists and strains.
For Head Coach, Ian Watson, this puts further pressure on his playing resources on top of the injuries sustained over the Easter Weekend.
“It was always going to be a tough encounter for us, but it couldn’t have been any tougher, as it turned out, coming as it did on the back of the Easter period,”  is his considered assessment of how the game unfolded.
“We knew they were a quality team and that they were going to test us, throwing their bodies into contact, and we got exactly that.  It was a tough game but we came through it with a win, and a few knocks, though, hopefully, these won’t be too long-term for us.”
The most inspiring aspect of Salford’s performance was, to us as spectators, the way the players handled the setback of being reduced to twelve men for the final fifty minutes of the game.
“They’re a good group of players, and they weren’t going to lose it just because we were down to twelve men,” Ian proudly claims.  “There were one or two things which hadn’t been going quite right in the first half, which we spoke about at half time, and which in the second half we did really well.
“Michael Dobson and Rob Lui took control of things, Kris Welham was absolutely outstanding, and Gareth O’Brien moved around the pitch to give us balance on each side, so we didn’t get broken down easily, from then on.
“All the boys handled the situation really well, and showed everyone what we are all about.”
Indeed, it was not until several seconds after the final hooter that the Red Devils’ line was finally breached in the second half, which, to most of us there, didn’t really seem to matter, for we had the game well won by that time.  That, however, is not the view that Ian takes.
“It was disappointing as it goes contrary to the ethos of the group, as our focus is upon keeping other teams down to the smallest number of scoring opportunities,” he explains.  “It didn’t matter massively, on this occasion, because we had got the game won by then, but we pride ourselves on our defensive capabilities, so much so, that we have looked carefully into what went wrong.
“It was caused by Kriss Brining slipping and twisting his ankle as he tried to respond to the run of the player with the ball, and we were slow, then, in filling the gap that this opened up.  It is something that we will have to learn from, and prevent from happening again.”
Far more important, though, was the discipline and restraint shown by the Salford players in what was an intensely physical combat, as any loss of control could have led to further depletion of their numbers, which would have compounded problems significantly.
“All teams know the personalities of their opponents, and all teams contain some extremely talented, but quite explosive, guys, who are then targeted for the igniting of their fuse, and so increase the other team’s chances of winning,” he confides.  “We kept our composure very well, though, because we couldn’t afford to have lost anyone else, but full marks to Toronto for trying to improve their chances.”
With the whole game being streamed live around the world, other than in the UK, such a hard competitive game will have benefitted both clubs, especially Toronto, in their efforts to build up their following back in Canada.
“The establishment of Toronto is absolutely great for the game as a whole,” Ian enthuses.  “The more competitive games they can get in, like this one, the more it will increase the interest over there.  We want to make sure that rugby league is a top sport, so all the publicity around this match will have done both teams a lot of good.”
Nevertheless, after what has turned out to be three extremely tough games over the Easter period, obviously the players are all now still suffering the effects of them.
“We certainly have a lot of sore and very tired bodies,” he acknowledges, “though, to be fair, we always knew that this week would have to be about recovery, and getting them back up and ready for the challenge of Widnes, because if we aren’t physically ready for Sunday’s match, then we are not going to be mentally up for it.
“These games in Super League come down, a lot, to players’ mentality, and attitude, so if you are slightly off, at all, you are going to be struggling.  We have had a really good process going, with our medical team, to make sure we are all up and running.
“The players will be right by the weekend.  It’s amazing to see how well they get looked after these days.   In the olden days, over Easter, it was just a case of getting strapped up a bit and being thrown out for the next game.”
It was only a matter of a few weeks ago, that  Sunday’s opponents, Widnes Vikings, were taken apart by the Red Devils, in a first half rout in which the Red Devils ran up thirty, unanswered points, and the memory of this could possibly impact on the forthcoming, return encounter.
“There will certainly be no complacency from us,” counters Ian.  “Widnes are a good team and they have a lot of their key players back for this match, including their first choice half backs.
“It is something that we shall need to be aware of, because if we go out, even slightly off, we could struggle.  All the games against Widnes, over the last couple of years, have been quite close matches, and the game this weekend will most likely be another of those.”
If anyone had any doubts about that prediction, a quick glance at the Vikings’ result, against St Helens, would soon remove those.
“It was a really good result for them,” agrees Ian.  “We had a look through that game and we were really impressed with the way Widnes turned up.  They looked like they had come through the Easter period really well, and that their medical guys, too, had done a good job in keeping them in good shape.
“They will, therefore, be wanting to come here and make amends for the last time we met them.”
Referee – Mr B Thaler
Touch Judges – A Martin, M Griffiths
In-Goal Judges –  C Smith, N Lawrenson
Reserve Ref – P Marklove
Jake Bibby
Kriss Brining
Todd Carney
Michael Dobson
Mark Flanagan
George Griffin
Greg Johnson
Josh Jones
Craig Kopczak
Olsi Krasniqi
Ryan Lannon
Robert Lui
Lee Mossop
Ben Murdoch- Masila
Daniel Murray
Lama Tasi
Logan Tomkins
Adam Walne
Kris Welham