Salford Red Devils will have just two full training sessions before Saturday’s return to action against Leeds Rhinos at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium (ko6.30pm), but their coach Ian Watson insists there will be no excuses.
Almost half of Watson’s squad and the coach himself have spent much of the last two weeks self-isolating, following the spate of positive Covid-19 tests at their last opponents Hull FC.
Having played just once since the season restart, it has handed last year’s Grand Finalists another obstacle to overcome.
But Watson is confident that his squad can cope after their emphatic defeat of the Black and Whites and he insists they have reacted well to the latest challenges thrown at them.
Watson explained: “It’s been chaotic and stressful, but the players we sign here are usually competitive and up for a challenge and they will be again.
“It’s been the same all year really. We were just starting to find our feet and then coronavirus happened, and we got back into it and through no fault of our own we’ve ended up being shut down again.
“But it is what it is – we need to do it and the players were really good in how they came back last time.
“We’ll probably only have two sessions before Leeds and we’ll focus on the same things we did for Hull.
“We’ll only have a short window, but we’ll deal with it, move on and have no excuses.
“This group has been good all through lockdown, and while it’s been frustrating recently and the players have had to worry about their and their families’ welfare, it looks like they’ve all done the right thing and stayed safe.”
The enforced break has allowed mid-season signing Andy Ackers to start running again following a broken foot, but backrower Oliver Roberts is still at least a week away from returning from a torn calf muscle.
Kevin Brown has shaken off his own calf injury and Gil Dudson and Krisnan Inu, both not selected against Hull, are again available.
Watson meanwhile has revealed the circumstances behind the Red Devils discovery of the Black and Whites’ positive tests.
He said: “We found out about half-an-hour before, which didn’t give us loads of time.
“We weren’t told any names, which I think we should have been. At least then the players would know who they’ve come into contact with, or which staff they were talking to, especially when they’ve got young families.
“We managed to get all the lads on a Zoom call five minutes before it came out to let them know, and from there we went into a lockdown situation.
“We cancelled training and everybody started to isolate, while we booked private tests with the NHS for Wednesday dinner time, knowing we also had the club tests on the Friday.
“The club has been good through all of this – it’s not been about money, but about the welfare of players and staff and making sure we had plenty of tests booked.
“We already had one on the Monday, the Wednesday one was negative, the Friday one negative and then the next Monday tests were negative.
“We might get really lucky amongst it all, but it has been really disruptive, especially in terms of families.
“It was definitely stressful, especially for a few players that have young children who’d been in hospital previously or have new-born babies.
“Wives have got jobs that they need to go to, and it wasn’t a brilliant situation with us all having to stay away from our families.
“The first thing we discussed was families.
“I decided to self-isolate until we had the negative test results and I’d had no symptoms, and my wife went back to work after the third result came back.
“The kids stayed away from me and I know talking to other lads that there was concern about their families.
“You then start turning it back on yourself and hoping you don’t get that real fatigue factor and a loss of smell, and we believe some Hull players have been struggling with that.
“But so far so good for us.
“The biggest thing was not being responsible for passing it on to somebody else, so we all wanted to be ultra-careful and gave the players the full week off.”
And Watson also believes that Rugby League can take positives out of what has unfolded.
He added: “The one thing we don’t want to lose is the sport and the game.
“If you spin it as a positive, for a virus that is supposed to be very contagious, we’ve played a game of rugby where there were only 13 contacts that were classed as high risk.
“Taking away scrums seems like a really good idea now – the contact involved in scrums would have put those contacts up a lot more.
“That’s been a really good rule that’s been brought in, and it shows that the sport is pretty safe.
“Precautions have been put in place to help keep the game going and hopefully they will do.
“It’s been unfortunate for the Hull guys and hopefully we come through it unscathed and the sport can keep going forward.
“We all want to make sure we’ve got careers and jobs in the future.
“For fans, having that escapism and something to look forward to at the weekend gives you some hope.
“There are still a lot of people in really tough situations with Covid and watching your favourite team or player play can help.”
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