Salford’s superb victory over Castleford rightfully earned them headlines, but it further showcased the importance of their up-and-coming head coach, Ian Watson.
Their latest triumph over Castleford saw Watson’s stock rise to its highest point since he took over the club during the 2015 season. However, his future at the club is somewhat in question, with his contract set to expire at the end of the 2017 season.
Since entering the club’s hot seat, Watson has transformed the Red Devils from a hot mess of a club to one of the countries most exciting, flourishing sides. Although his record of 19 victories in 42 games is nothing to write home about on the surface, Watson’s early return has ensured the club has retained Super League status under difficult circumstances for two consecutive years.
But most importantly, the 40-year-old has instilled an ethos within the club, something that had been so evidently lacking in the years before he was put in charge. On the field, the team has an identity both fans and neutrals have warmed to, replacing the unrelatable characteristics associated with teams from yesteryear. The brand of rugby Watson has programmed into his players is attractive to watch and highlights his side’s potential. Not only that, but Salford are picking up victories in doing so.
As a result, pundits look forward to watching the Red Devils in action, as is being showcased by the club’s rapidly improving attendances. Their first three home games of the season have all attracted more spectators than their highest attendance last season, which was 5,089 against Widnes last February. This year, they pulled in a crowd of 6,527 for their first game with Wigan, 5,492 for the visit of Warrington and 5,221 for their recent triumph over Castleford. Last year’s average of 3,100 looks set to be heavily improved this time around.
Watson has overseen the start of a process that can be compared to that of Daryl Powell’s at Castleford. It hasn’t been an overnight success, but he has implemented an honest, hard-working approach into his squad while allowing his players to express themselves on the pitch. That balance isn’t easy to come by, but Watson has started to get the cogs turning.
Recruitment has also been impressive. In his first year in charge, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Gareth O’Brien and Josh Jones were all brought in and had a huge impact on making Salford top eight calibre, a rank they only missed out on due to a points deduction. Of his 2017 recruitment drive, Lee Mossop has been a revelation since joining from Wigan, with his performances resulting in cries for an England recall, while the addition of young English hooker Kriss Brining has highlighted his ability to spot potential in young players.
It only goes to show the impact the former Swinton Lions player has had on the club since his arrival. But now Salford must ensure that his stay is extended into 2018 and beyond.
He has made no secret of his desire to stay. In this week’s League Express, Watson confirmed that he wants to keep discussions short so he can put his focus into on-field matters, which further reinforces his desire and enthusiasm for the role.
During his time at Salford, Watson has brought stability to one of the most chaotic clubs this country has seen. Now, he is bringing a balance to an ever-improving squad. Salford simply cannot afford to let his services become available elsewhere.
The importance in sorting a deal out is only heightened by the club’s current position with out-of-contract players. Over half of the squad’s existing deals expire at the end of the season, with all of those players free to speak to other clubs in around six weeks. Having their head coach tied down to a deal with only help smoothen the process of retaining their top stars and attract new personnel that can further enhance them.