2021 Season Review: Salford Red Devils

Salford fail to sustain previous seasons’ progress

In our preview of Salford’s 2021 season in February this year we said that the 2021 season would be a season of transition away from the coaching of Ian Watson to the systems and tactics that would be introduced by their new coach Richard Marshall.

“That makes it particularly difficult to predict what sort of season Salford will have, particularly when we consider the possible impact of injuries to key players,” we said.

“Given that the play-off system will again involve six teams in 2021, perhaps the most realistic aim for the Red Devils will be to qualify in sixth place in order to then try to replicate their march through the play-offs from 2019.”

Unfortunately for Salford and their new coach Richard Marshall, the club couldn’t attain that level of achievement in 2021.

Five things we learned from Salford’s season

1 A club that loses its coach to a competitor will struggle to maintain the progress that was made under the previous incumbent. Ian Watson had taken the Red Devils to a Grand Final in 2019 and to the Challenge Cup Final in 2020. It was always going to be difficult for a new coach to replicate that success.

2 Despite the team’s modest showing in the Super League table, that shouldn’t divert us from the fact that individual players can have strong seasons in a losing cause. Salford winger Ken Sio illustrates this perfectly, finishing as the top tryscorer in Super League with 19 touchdowns.

3 A club that struggles to reach the salary-cap ceiling will struggle to retain its players from a successful season. Prior to the start of the season, the Red Devils lost Niall Evalds, Joey Lussick, Gil Dudson, Tyrone McCarthy and Luke Yates, all of whom had played a great part in their success of the previous two seasons, while they also saw the retirement of Mark Flanagan, who had been a great servant of the club for five seasons. They were all hard to replace, but the club probably wouldn’t have had to if it had been able to pay them their market value.

4 Short term factors are more important than long term ones when it comes to the recruitment and dismissal of head coaches. Richard Marshall had a great vision of what the Red Devils could achieve in their community for the development of young players, but that wasn’t enough for him to retain his job after his first season in charge.

5 Salford’s lack of a financial benefactor means that they are likely to move from their current home, the A J Bell Stadium, to Moor Lane, which is currently the home of Salford City FC. With Salford City Council and Peel Holdings apparently keen to offload their half-ownership of the stadium, a combined bid to buy them out from Sale Sharks and the football club looks likely to eventually force the Red Devils into a new home, although at the current time it isn’t possible to say when that will happen.

Finishing position
The Red Devils finished in eleventh position, with a winning record of 31.82% from 22 fixtures, scoring 402 points and conceding 584, for an average scoreline of 18-27.

Best result
Ken Sio scored four tries for the Red Devils, moving to the top of the try charts as they gave a dominant display, beating Hull FC 42-14 on August Bank Holiday Monday, delivering a crushing blow to Hull’s hopes of reaching the play-offs.

Worst result
Salford had some hefty losses during the season. On 3rd April they hosted Hull FC and suffered a 4-35 defeat at the AJ Bell Stadium, which set the tone for a difficult season under new coach Richard Marshall, with Elijah Taylor suffering an unfortunate shoulder injury.

Best player
It has to be prolific winger Ken Sio for his amazing try scoring record in 2021. Fortunately the Red Devils have signed him up once again for the next two seasons. And Harvey Livett also deserves a mention for his consistency during the season.

Best young player
Because they don’t have an elite Academy, Salford have very few young players, if we define such a player as being under 21 years of age at the beginning of the year, and this partially illustrates the problems that Salford face in putting together a viable squad. But Jack Stevens was the club’s Academy Player of the Year, although he is yet to make his first-grade debut.

Best overseas player
Apart from Ken Sio, Elijah Taylor proved to be a superb overseas signing for the Red Devils during 2021.

Try of the year
One of Ken Sio’s four tries against Hull FC on Bank Holiday Monday came from a remarkable movement that included three kicks – from Chris Atkin, Dan Sarginson and Sio himself – before Sio touched down for a thrilling score.

Quote of the year
“Salford Red Devils can confirm that Richard Marshall has left the club by mutual consent. Arriving from St. Helens last year where he was assistant coach, Marshall took the reins at Salford ahead of the 2021 Betfred Super League season, which the Red Devils finished in 11th place. Salford Red Devils would like to thank Richard Marshall for his efforts this season and we wish him and his family all the best for the future. The club will make no further comment at this time.” The terse statement put out by the club last month signalling the end of Richard Marshall’s tenure at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Image of the year
Salford Chairman Paul King speaking at a fans’ forum on 8th July about why it is probably unfeasible for the club to retain the AJ Bell Stadium as its home when its current agreement runs out in 2023.

Defining moment
On Sunday 22nd August Salford became the first Super League team to lose a match to the Leigh Centurions, when they were defeated 32-22 at the Leigh Sports Village. That may have sealed the fate of their coach Richard Marshall and persuaded the club to move in a different direction.

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