In the latest instalment of our series, we take a look at Salford Red Devils and their hopes for 2019.
Ian Watson has overcome plenty of challenges during his time at Salford.
Recruitment for 2019 might be the biggest of the lot.
Heading into the transfer market this year will not be too dissimilar to a young child fighting for the last plasma TV in a Black Friday sale with a bodybuilder. The Red Devils are one of the lowest spenders in Super League and are entering a market with a low player pool where prices are increasing due to the salary cap rise.
But Watson loves a challenge, he’s overcome every single one of them during his time in the Red Devils hot seat. That said, this one won’t be easy.
Last year, the club identified lower league talent and recruited them as projects. The likes of Derrell Olpherts, Levy Nzoungou and Gavin Bennion were brought in, Ben Nakubuwai was an overseas acquisition Watson saw potential in that he has managed to unearth while Jack Littlejohn provided a smattering of NRL quality along with Luke Burgess.
But Salford’s goals for 2019 have changed. The departures of Ben Murdoch-Masila, Michael Dobson and Gareth O’Brien have seen three of their most talented players depart in the space of months while earning some healthy transfer profits.
Salford now need experience and quality rather than further young talents. That, of course, comes at a price.
Watson has admitted that the club is still calculating its budget for next year, meaning there’s a bit of uncertainty as to how much they have to spend.
But here’s what we do know.
Manu Vatuvei will leave at the end of the season after a document released by the RFL confirmed so. In parting ways with the popular winger, Salford are moving on one of their highest earners.
Others could yet follow. Bennion, Littlejohn, Olpherts and Nzoungou are all off contract, as are Luke Burgess, Kriss Brining and Weller Hauraki.
It’s expected that most of them will stay, but Salford, you would expect, will still have some cap space to work with regardless of the budget put in place.
Where they’re in need of recruitment is obvious. Beyond anything else, the squad is seriously short in the backs. Before the season started, Watson raised concerns about a lack of bodies in the backs. Vatuvei’s departure at the end of the year, coupled with the mid-season exit of O’Brien, means they are in even more need of recruits than the start of the year.
Arrivals could come through the doors before 2019, with the club still actively searching for recruits in that department, and that would have an impact on what business the club does ahead of next season.
Any other business Salford undertake will be interesting. Their forwards have gone well and the emergence of Josh Wood as a versatile pivot has helped fill the void left by Dobson. If anything, they will be looking to add depth in these departments while replacing any further outgoings. But in such a competitive field, this might be where their biggest challenge lies this time out.
Watson has made it clear that he isn’t keen on giant turnovers in personnel, and one shouldn’t be expected at the AJ Bell this time.
But the business they do will be very interesting indeed.
Fan’s view – Louis Hawke
If the 2018 season recruitment is anything to go by, then 2019’s recruitment could be very very poor for the Salford Red Devils as the club is really scraping the barrel for major talent.
During the off-season, we recruited Gavin Bennion who’s currently out on loan with Swinton. I asked Gavin, what his thoughts are on pre-season, youngsters and where we need to strengthen for next season.
“I would definitely recommend them to join and become one of the team as I’ve enjoyed every minute so far, but be willing to work hard and to get stuck in as it’s a tough pre-season. It can be frustrating when you get sent to play at other teams but you just have to get your head down and keep doing your best and your rewards will come.
“We definitely need to keep the youth and keep bringing in more young players as they’re the future of the club, we also need to keep the core of the squad and the experienced players. Outside backs I think we need to strengthen for next year as we are low on numbers in that area. Keep working hard and to be patient and your rewards will come”