As the 2019 Rugby League season draws ever closer what can Salford Red Devil’s supporters expect? With the structure change and the eights format being scrapped the pressure will be of a different kind as teams look to avoid bottom spot.
London Broncos were promoted after a fascinating match against firm favourites Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game. No tries were scored but it was an end to end contest you could not take your eyes off.
London coach Danny Ward has moulded a very competitive side in the capital. There performances in last years qualifiers were very impressive. Salford were beaten at London with Jarrod Sammutt producing a marvellous display of safety first tactics on a damp grey afternoon in September. Sammut was a surprise close season signing by Wigan leaving London with big boots to fill.
Salford’s two defeats in the Qualifiers at London and Leeds were without Jackson Hastings who was suspended after his red card against Toronto.
Hastings and fellow Australian Joey Lussick were a breath of fresh towards the back end of the 2018 season. The Red Devil’s were struggling with the trap door to the championship looming. Hastings gave the club a huge lift on and off the field. Suddenly the shackles were off as Salford found there mojo and attacking prowess just when it was needed most.
Another master stroke from coach Ian Watson was bringing Ed Chamberlain and Greg Burke in from Widnes. Two young hungry players with plenty to prove in 2019. Chamberlain with plenty of pace and a good defender, add to that his flexibility as a goal kicker. Burke a raw boned forward with plenty of experience is looking fitter and stronger than ever. Staying with the Widnes theme Gil Dudson has been brought in from the Vikings to bolster the pack. The welsh international has played over 160 first team matches and was a Challenge Cup winner with Wigan in 2013.
Having joined on loan from Hull last season Jansin Turget will get his chance in 2019 having signed a permanent deal.
A surprise signing for Salford but another very exciting one is Ken Sio from Newcastle Knights in The NRL. Sio played at Hull kr for two seasons in 2015 and 2016. Eagle eyed Salford supporters may remember him playing against us in the Million pound game of 2016. A very powerful player and excellent finisher with a super try ratio where ever he’s played.
At 6ft 7 inches tall forward Adam Lawton will be looking to establish himself in the first team. Adam has spent some time in Australia recently having played in Super League with Widnes in 2014.
At the end of 2018 Salford’s squad took at hit with Craig Kopzack, Lama Tasi, Ryan Lannon, Weller Hauraki, Jack Littlejohn, Levy Nzoungo, Kris Brining and Gavin Bennion all moving on. Luke Burgess also announced his retirement.
I caught up with Salford coach Ian Watson just before the Christmas break and he’s very pleased with the recruitment so far and knows this squad can compete and push on in 2019.
There is definitely an excited anticipation amongst the supporters with Jackson Hastings being able to test himself against Super League’s big guns.
With Robert Lui as his half back partner these two could match any side in the league on there day. Teams will no doubt target Hastings and the young Australian must learn to keep his emotions in check. He certainly wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s great to see his leadership and passion. As long as he can control it he will be a huge handful for opposing defences.
Ian Watson and his players will have there own personal and team goals for the new season but as a supporter dreams of Wembley will certainly be on many a mind. 2019 will be 50 years since our last Cup Final appearance of 1969. I have been known as a hopeless romantic in the past and for all long suffering supporters who turn up religiously every week to watch our proud club it would be magical to see Salford walk out at Wembley.
Brian Snape leads the Salford team out, Wembley 1969
Our squad is perhaps on the thin side compared to some teams but competition for places is what coach’s crave and in this squad I think Ian has that. There is plenty of versatility in there with some players being able to work in different positions.
I’ve heard people say “if we can steer clear of injury we should be ok”.
For me injuries are inevitable in Rugby League, with a fantastic medical staff on board at Salford hopefully we can avoid too many major injuries.
In 2018 we had dreadful luck losing Manu Vatuvei and Kris Brining before the season kicked off. It was tragic seeing Kris in the stands last year a player who burst on to the scene in 2017 looking like a future international improving week after week. A real down to earth and level headed lad I’d like to wish him all the best with his future both in Rugby League and outside it.
I am not going to make a prediction for where we will finish on the League table in 2019. I am confident we can compete week in week out. Young players like Daniel Murray, Josh Wood and Jake Bibby who did so well in 2018 will hopefully move on to the next level in 2019.
As far as coaches go Ian Watson begins his fourth full season in charge making him one of the longest serving in Super League. Ian’s a real thinker and studies the game for hours on end leaving no stone unturned. There is no doubting his ability and the bond he has with the players is quite humbling. Ian’s reputation amongst the wider Rugby League community continues to grow.
Before our League campaign gets under way at Huddersfield on the Friday the 1st February there are two home warm up games. Swinton Lions next Saturday the 12th January 1pm and Wigan on Sunday the 20th January at 2pm.
Enjoy the season and all the best for 2019.
Photos by Steve McCormick