It’s fair to say the Million Pound Game has come in for some criticism this week.
Most of the headlines have focussed on the Hull KR camp, namely Ben Cockayne’s explosive comments about how the concept is a “disgrace”.
But Salford have also made their feelings felt about the one-off game – including their coach, Ian Watson.
Watson, the man who has overseen what felt like a season of progression at the AJ Bell Stadium before they were hit with a six-point deduction earlier in the year, has hit out at the marketing and promotion of the game: with some comments that will ring true to the ears of many players and fans.
“I’ve seen bits from last year about what the players involved said,” he said. “One thing I don’t agree with is the glamming up of the whole thing. It’s not a Grand Final. It’s a serious game, this, and you’re talking about livelihoods.
“If you want to talk about our players and their livelihoods, then look at Adam Walne. He signed a contract four years ago when there was no promotion and relegation, so he got a house with a mortgage, he’s getting married: what is he going to do?
“The RFL aren’t going to look after him when he loses his job but four years ago there was none of this. The team did their job, they finished in the top eight but because of what happened three years ago all these players are being held accountable.
“All those players have got their money and been and gone and this group are being held responsible – so there are questions to be asked. But again, I don’t like how they are glamming it up as some sort of special game – it’s not. It’s a serious game with big things at stake.”
Watson also questioned the morality and practicality surrounding players potentially being out of work come Saturday evening – another hot topic in the build-up to the Million Pound Game.
“In the Premier League, you have parachute payments so you can hold players,” he said. “Which way do the RFL go? You talk about player welfare and you’re seriously telling players who have come over from Australia – Terry Campese is one – on the assumption they’ve got a two-year contract but suddenly he faces the prospect of being sent home with nothing.
“Is that right? I don’t know if it’s the right way to do it. The teams from the Championship are playing their games to win but the four Super League teams are playing for their livelihoods.”
To say Watson has had to deal with more than your average coach this year is an understatement. With continued speculation about the future of Salford’s ownership and the points deduction which robbed them of a top-eight finish, it has been far from an easy ride for Watson: something he openly admits.
“It’s been tough but you learn to deal with things,” he admitted.
“Having Tim (Sheens) and with all the things he’s seen, that helps. We’ve had a lot of meetings and the big thing for us was to get through this year after losing the six points, but hopefully we’ll still be in Super League next year and we can build without Tim.
“Marwan has shown his commitment to the group at the moment and he spoke positively to the players about being involved, so we need to do our job on the field and take everything else out of the occasion.”
And has the worst-case scenario been considered?
“We’ve not spoken about defeat,” he insisted. “We’re fully focussed on the game and making sure we do our job properly. We didn’t speak about this game going into Batley, the focus was on that and it’s the same against here. Whatever happens on the back of the result, happens.”