Who should Salford appoint as their new coach?

It was a shock to learn on Monday that Ian Watson would be leaving Salford to join Huddersfield Giants.

I have an admitted soft spot for the Red Devils and I would love nothing more than to see them consolidating the gains they have made under Watson in recent years and going on to win major trophies.

But I guess the deal he’s been offered at the Giants is for a significantly higher salary, while Watson will not have to move house and will be able to travel daily to the John Smith’s Stadium to coach the team, which would have been far more difficult if he had agreed to become the new coach at Hull FC. No doubt that is why he turned that job down.

I imagine that Watson will take his conditioner Greg Brown to Huddersfield, which is where he worked before moving to Salford, so it will no doubt be a welcome return for him.

But it’s hard to overstate how crucial their next appointment is for the Red Devils.

Watson has been so closely associated with the club since taking over as head coach from Iestyn Harris in 2016. He has an incredible work ethic, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Rugby League players, whether in Super League, the Championship, League 1 or the NRL.

But in some respects, his obvious love for the game is even more important.

Whenever Watson is interviewed on Sky or the BBC, his enthusiasm bubbles over and it’s impossible not to like and admire him. And that affection is very easily transferred to the Salford club.

To replace him with someone who shares both his work ethic and his ability to communicate so well will be an almost impossible task.

But somehow the Red Devils have to try to achieve the impossible, and appoint someone who can continue the momentum that has been established at the club over the last couple of seasons.

So who are the leading candidates?

Let’s bear in mind that the Red Devils originally recruited Watson from Swinton Lions in 2014 to work as Iestyn Harris’ assistant.

So will they risk making a move for another Championship coach, such as James Ford of York or Danny Ward of London Broncos, with the latter already having shown his ability to coach a Super League team, while Ford is widely thought of to be another star in the making.

Then there are the coaches with Super League experience, although not necessarily as head coaches.

Perhaps the most obvious candidate until recently would have been the former Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott, but he now seems likely to head to the NRL as an assistant coach with the Cronulla Sharks. There is also Simon Woolford, who coached the Giants this season until relieved of his duties, and I understand he would be keen to continue to pursue his career in Super League.

Richard Marshall is the assistant to Kristian Woolf at St Helens and he will be released at the end of the season because of cost-cutting by Saints, but he is an engaging character who was in charge of Halifax and is now probably ready to take charge of a Super League team.

Danny Orr was an assistant at Castleford to Daryl Powell and recently quit that role. Like Watson, he was a stand-off in his playing days, although he has kept a generally low profile at the Jungle.

But the coach that I would go for would be Andy Last, who is the interim coach at Hull FC.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com – 19/12/2019 – Rugby League – Super League – Hull FC Media Day – The Bonus Youth Centre, Hull, England – Andy Last.

Last has been on the Hull coaching staff for the last 15 years, working under a variety of head coaches.

Whilst acting as an assistant to Richard Agar at first-team level, he coached Hull’s Under-20s team, taking them to three successive Grand Finals with two victories, while he is also a former England Academy coach.

He obviously wants the job at the KCOM Stadium, but I believe he would be wise to take a first-grade coaching job elsewhere, away from the pressure-cooker that is Hull FC for a coach who is a native of the city.

I think that Last has Watson’s deep knowledge of and love for the game, while I also think he comes across as a totally genuine character.

If I were the Red Devils, Andy Last would be the coach for me, although I have no idea whether Paul King, the Chairman, and Ian Blease, the CEO, would agree with me.

Read Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column every Monday in League Express