Salford Red Devils stretched for season opener but Ryan Brierley full of optimism

Salford Red Devils face a potential injury crisis for the opening round of the Super League season with their centre and backrow stocks stretched to the limit.

Kallum Watkins, Tim Lafai, Joe Burgess, James Greenwood, Danny Addy, Ryan Lannon, Harvey Livett, Jack Ormondroyd, jack Wells, Dan Sarginson, Morgan Escaré and Amir Bourouh were all unavailable for their first pre-season fixture against Swinton Lions.

Among the absentees were players forced to isolate for Covid reasons, who will at least be able to return for their second pre-season game this Friday at home to another Championship side, Halifax Panthers.

Despite that, they ran up a 48-12 victory against their neighbours, inspired largely by a strong performance by new stand-off half Brodie Croft and with new signing Alex Gerrard taking to the field despite having had only one training session with his team-mates.

However, they already look like being without five players when round one comes around, with James Greenwood having a minor operation that puts him on the sidelines alongside Harvey Livett and Kallum Watkins.

Dan Sarginson will be suspended for the opening fixture and Tim Lafai, the man brought in on a one-year contract partly to cover for these issues, is unlikely to play any part as he is still awaiting his visa.

“I’m hopeful every day that it lands on his doorstep and he gets on the next flight,” said Red Devils head coach Paul Rowley.

“However, it’s going to be tight because anyone not playing first-grade NRL has not been getting games under their belt.

“He needs a little bit of time to bed in, get his match fitness up and get used to everything here.

“Time might beat him, but fingers crossed (the visa comes soon). All the signs are it might be a week or two away.”

While Rowley has some problems to contend with, he insists that Salford will be determined not to forfeit any games this season regardless of any Covid impact on selection, which could result in being awarded a 48-0 loss.

“You’re crossing your fingers that nature doesn’t come and get you,” he said.

“We’ve not got an infrastructure in terms of scholarship and Academy, so it’s not like I can dip down and get players.

“However, we won’t cancel games. I’ll put the boots on – myself, Danny (Orr) and Haggy (Kurt Haggerty) will give you a good five minutes if nothing else.”

Meanwhile, Salford have added to their forward ranks with the signing of prop Gerrard on a one-year deal. The 30-year-old was out of contract after leaving Leigh Centurions and has more than 100 Super League appearances to his name, mostly for Widnes Vikings.

“I’m really pleased to add Alex to the squad,” said Rowley.

“He’s got lots of experience at the top level and will add much needed depth and competition to the team, which we all understand will be paramount during this season.”

And after Saturday’s game, Salford fullback Ryan Brierley admits he can’t wait for the season to start.

“We want to create an exciting brand of rugby for everyone to watch,” said Brierley.

“Between Marc Sneyd, Brodie Croft and myself, we’ve had a lot of dialogue; they think so deeply about Rugby League.

“I’m loving coming to training and learning from those two.

“Brodie is still a young kid but I was looking up to him, given who he played with at Melbourne.

“He also has a willingness to learn and he’s a really exciting runner of the ball, he’s very smart and is tough defensively.

“The NRL journalists battered him at Brisbane last year but I don’t think that will happen here.”

And Brierley, formerly a halfback, believes that his move to fullback is the best move he’s made in his career.

“In the past in Super League I’ve not cracked it, but moving to fullback matured me a lot,” he said.

“Last year I thought I was in the best form of my career and this season I’m in an environment where the coach loves me. I’m really looking forward to this season.”

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