Salford rely on experience post-Watson
The revolving door is always a busy one in the close season at the A J Bell stadium, with the club having seen eleven departures and ten arrivals on the playing side.
But their most important loss is their coach Ian Watson, who has moved across the Pennines to Huddersfield after taking the Red Devils to two major finals in the last two years.
The Red Devils have lost a considerable degree of Super League experience with the departures of Niall Evalds (130 Super League games), Kris Welham (86 games for Salford), Joey Lussick (48), Gil Dudson (41), Tyrone McCarthy (61), Luke Yates (17) and the retirement of Mark Flanagan (89 Super League games).
The loss of Evalds to Castleford was a particularly bitter blow, while the departure of Luke Yates to Huddersfield is another. Yates is one of the best defensive back row forwards in Super League and it’s hardly surprising that Watson was keen to take him to the John Smith’s Stadium.
The Red Devils have allowed winger Ed Chamberlain to join London Broncos, where he will hope for a change of fortune after only playing eleven games in three seasons for Salford because of injuries, while hooker Connor Jones will return to Featherstone Rovers and autumn’s short-term signing Tom Gilmore will head to Batley Bulldogs.
The most important arrival is new coach Richard Marshall, who joins the Red Devils after a spell as St Helens assistant coach under Justin Holbrook and Kristian Woolf. That experience will surely stand him in good stead as he seeks to ensure that the momentum of the last two seasons isn’t lost.
The Red Devils may have lost some key players from their 2020 squad, but they have also made some eye-catching signings for 2021.
The most notable is perhaps Wigan winger Joe Burgess, a former Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year in 2014, who arrives at the club after having played 115 Super League games for Wigan. Burgess is joined by his Wigan colleagues Morgan Escaré, who played just 45 games for Wigan in four seasons, and forward Jack Wells.
Salford have also brought on board the New Zealand international Elijah Taylor from Wests Tigers, whose intended role appears to be to replace Mark Flanagan at the back of the pack, while Darcy Lussick raplaces his brother Joey at hooker.
Another notable capture is Dec Patton from Warrington Wolves. Patton was pushed out of the Wolves’ side by the arrival of Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and he will be hoping to revitalise what was a promising career, whose high point was the 2019 Challenge Cup Final, when he played a key role as Warrington defeated St Helens.
Patton is one of several recruits who now need to kick on to show that they can cut it in Super League. That group includes Harvey Livett, Danny Addy and Matty Costello, none of whom will lack motivation, while the Red Devils have also snapped up Scottish international backrower Sam Luckley, from Newcastle Thunder via Ottawa Aces.
Although Frenchman Morgan Escaré will wear the number 1 shirt in 2021, he is likely to start the season as the side’s reserve fullback, with Dan Sarginson, who will wear the popular squad number 23, is likely to be the first choice in that position.
At halfback the Red Devils have Tui Lolohea and Kevin Brown, who played together in 2020. But Brown is now, at 36 years of age, the oldest player in Super League. He only played in eleven of Salford’s 21 games in 2020, and the Red Devils have covered that possibility by signing Dec Patton from Warrington Wolves, while Chris Atkin also supplied backup for the two halfback roles.
At hooker, Andy Ackers has been given the number 9 shirt and he will battle new signing Darcy Lussick, who has joined the club from Toronto Wolfpack and will be looking to follow his younger brother Joey’s footsteps by becoming a vital member of the matchday squad. The Red Devils also have promising youngster Connor Aspey, who is still only 18 years old, but made his debut off the bench against Hull Kingston Rovers in Round 16 last season.
One of the important keys to success for Salford in the 2021 season will be whether their pack can stand up to their rivals to create the dynamics for their promising backline to score plenty of points.
Frontrowers Lee Mossop and Sebastine Ikahihifo are both over the age of 30, but they will be backed up by a posse of younger frontrowers in former Huddersfield Giants player Oliver Roberts, Salford stalwart Greg Burke, another former Huddersfield player in Josh Johnson, former Hull KR man James Greenwood and one-time Leeds player Jack Ormondroyd.
On the face of it, that gives the Red Devils’ coach Richard Marshall plenty of options in selecting his strongest front row and there’s a similar story at the back of the pack.
Ryan Lannon, Pauli Pauli and Elijah Taylor look the most likely starters, according to their squad numbers, but Danny Addy, Harvey Livett, Jack Wells and Sam Luckley will be looking for their chances to impress.
The Salford supporters will no doubt have plenty to debate in 2021 in relation to which players will make Marshall’s matchday squad.
Salford’s threequarter line has been slowly growing stronger over the last couple of years, and it 2021 the likely starters will be Rhys Williams and Joe Burgess on the wings, with Kallum Watkins and Krisnan Inu in the centres, giving Richard Marshall’s side a strike capacity that can compare to most other sides in Super League.
Backing up those four are Ken Sio, Elliot Kear and Matty Costello, while Dan Sarginson can also fit in at centre.
Inu is now one of the oldest players in Super League, alongside Kevin Brown, and in 2020 he played in just over half the Red Devils’ matches, which means that Costello, who was near to being a regular for St Helens in 2020 and joined Salford on a three-year contract, will probably get plenty of opportunities to seal a permanent place in the threequarter line.
As in the other positions in the Salford squad, one of the most interesting elements of the new season will be to see how new coach Marshall stamps his own personality on the way the team plays.
One of the by-products of the Red Devils not having an Academy set-up is that the club doesn’t have a throughput of younger players like some of their major rivals.
The only player in their squad who is 21 or under is young hooker Connor Aspey, who will celebrate his 19th birthday in April.
Aspey joined the Red Devils’ Foundation Development Squad in 2019 and he is the first player to graduate to the first-team squad from that system.
A Realistic Aim for 2021
For the Red Devils, the 2021 season will be a season of transition away from the coaching of Ian Watson to the systems and tactics that will be introduced by 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.
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.
Squad numbers: 1 Morgan Escaré, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Kallum Watkins, 4 Krisnan Inu, 5 Joe Burgess, 6 Tui Lolohea, 7 Kevin Brown, 8 Lee Mossop, 9 Andy Ackers, 10 Seb Ikahihifo, 11 Ryan Lannon, 12 Pauli Pauli, 13 Elijah Taylor, 14 Danny Addy, 15 Ollie Roberts, 16 Greg Burke, 17 Josh Johnson, 18 Chris Atkin, 19 Elliot Kear, 20 Harvey Livett, 21 James Greenwood, 22 Rhys Williams, 23 Dan Sarginson, 24 Matty Costello, 25 Jack Ormondroyd, 26 Jack Wells, 27 Sam Luckley, 28 Darcy Lussick, 29 Dec Patton, 30 Connor Aspey
Ins: Morgan Escaré (Wigan Warriors), Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Elijah Taylor (Wests Tigers), Danny Addy (Leigh Centurions), Harvey Livett (Warrington Wolves), Matty Costello (St Helens), Jack Wells (Wigan Warriors), Sam Luckley (Newcastle Thunder), Darcy Lussick (Toronto Wolfpack), Dec Patton (Warrington Wolves).
Outs: Ed Chamberlain (London Broncos – season loan), Gil Dudson (Catalans Dragons), Niall Evalds (Castleford Tigers), Mark Flanagan (Retired), Tom Gilmore (Batley Bulldogs), Connor Jones (Featherstone Rovers), Joey Lussick (Parramatta Eels), Tyrone McCarthy (Leigh Centurions), Luis Roberts (Swinton Lions), Kris Welham (Featherstone Rovers), Luke Yates (Huddersfield Giants).
The coaching team
Head Coach: Richard Marshall
Head of Rugby Development: Paul Rowley
Assistant Coach: Danny Orr
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Gareth Whittaker
Reserves/Academy Head Coach: Danny Barton
Player Welfare Manager: Marlon Billy
Head Physio: Rob Artingstall
Physio: Beth Cunliffe
Physio: Sarah O’Neill
Strength and Conditioning Assistant: Carl Folkstone
Club Analyst: Chris Nelson
Chairman: Paul King
Director of Rugby: Ian Blease
Commercial Director: George Harborne
Club Secretary: Tracey Costello
Commercial Manager: Hannah Kilby
Events & Media Manager: Marcelle Lock
Media and Communications Manager: Luke Wallworth
Home Shirt: Red shirt with a white and black strip down the middle
Away Shirt: Not yet revealed
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 50/1
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