Five things we learned from Salford’s season
1: Togetherness trumps a team full of stars. Salford have reached both the Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final in successive years, yet possess one of the cheapest rosters in the competition. The camaraderie within the squad is impressive and every player fights tooth and nail for his team-mates.
2: Ian Watson is one of the best coaches in the game as the main driving force behind the Red Devils’ success in recent seasons. After successfully guiding Salford away from relegation in 2016, Watson transformed the club into a silverware-hunting side – a miraculous turn of events in such a short space of time. No wonder, then, that the Englishman was the subject of interest from Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants in 2020, before joining the latter ahead of the 2021 season.
3: Salford’s financial problems came to the fore once more. The RFL deducted three wins from the club for failing to meet the terms of a financial commitment agreed in 2013, which ended any hopes of them making the Super League play-offs. Luckily, relegation wasn’t on the cards as it was in 2016 when a six-point deduction led to the Red Devils finishing in the bottom four.
4: A small squad can suffer more than most. The Red Devils had a squad of just 26 heading into the season, and, when injuries struck later on in the year, they had to forfeit their game against Warrington when they had just 13 fit men ready to play. They did manage to fulfil the rest of their fixtures though.
5: A leaky defence needs plugging. Whilst Salford had the fifth-best attack in the league, they conceded the third-most points. Of course, the Red Devils did play 18 games, with only Wakefield playing more, but heavy defeats to St Helens, Wigan and Leeds didn’t exactly help.
The Red Devils ended the season in ninth place, which was a far cry away from their third-place finish in 2019. Naturally, with one eye on the Challenge Cup, the league took a back seat, but Ian Watson’s men still managed to win eight games from 18 even when down to the bare bones. And without that three-wins deduction they would have finished in seventh place, just outside the play-offs.
Salford’s 54-18 demolition of Hull FC in the first game back after lockdown could have taken this accolade. But the Red Devils defied the odds to triumph over Warrington in the Challenge Cup semi-final, 24-22. They were behind 14-8 at the break after Kallum Watkins and two Krisnan Inu goals helped stem the Wolves’ momentum. Despite Inu crossing just after the break, Warrington ran into a 22-12 lead with 15 minutes left. But, the never-say-die attitude of the Salford players shone through as James Greenwood and Joey Lussick crossed to take the club to Wembley for the first time in 51 years.
After thrashing Hull FC, a fixture against Leeds looked tasty. Instead, the Red Devils lacked any bite whatsoever, going down 50-12 with Niall Evalds crossing twice. A 26-0 deficit at half-time effectively ended the contest and it proved even more costly as Ken Sio, Chris Atkin and Josh Johnson all succumbed to injuries during the game.
If there was one player that summed up Salford’s incredible durability in 2020 it was Dan Sarginson. When the centre moved to Salford from Wigan at the end of 2019, it was considered a coup by the Red Devils. And he showed just why in his first season, operating at both centre and fullback in superb fashion both defensively and in attack. Signing a new two-year deal in early November, the Londoner will be a key man for the club going forward.
Best young player
Luis Roberts played just twice for the Red Devils in 2020, but didn’t look out of place on the wing against either Warrington or Hull KR. The teenager, who stands at six feet four inches, has a big future ahead of him.
It can only be Krisnan Inu (pictured). He played just once before lockdown, but the Kiwi became an integral cog in the Salford wheel from August, scoring 12 tries and kicking 41 goals. In fact, it was the winger’s goalkicking that effectively sent the Red Devils to Wembley with a two-point triumph against Warrington in the semis.
Try of the year
Rhys Williams’ effort in the Challenge Cup Final was a belter; the Welshman sprinted 90 metres after Kallum Watkins had gloriously claimed a high kick before feeding Niall Evalds, who sent Williams away.
Quote of the year
“I see every day how sore they are.” A heartfelt message that came from Ian Watson, praising his side for overcoming illness and injury to finish the season after enduring a torrid time on both fronts.
Image of the year
Ian Blease leading out his beloved Salford club – with Watson in tow – at Wembley for the first time in more than half a century. It was an emotional moment for all the club’s supporters and members.
When Dan Sarginson crossed in golden point extra-time against Catalans in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, you could sense something special was going to happen regardless of who the Red Devils would face in the next round.
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