I think it’s fair to say that Salford have never really set Super League alight when they’ve been involved, save for their 2006 season when they made the playoffs for the first and only time. Their last season in the top flight was a poor one indeed, with their relegation confirmed long before the end of the season. However, the last time Salford were relegated it served them some good by allowing them to build up some momentum in the lower leagues, and they look to have done the same thing again with their victory in National League One last season.
Whilst the Reds now have to build themselves up from the bottom again, they do have some things going in their favour. Shaun McRae is a coach with a successful track record in Super League and he will be looking to take the Reds to another level. They still have some crafty veterans like Robbie Paul and Willie Talau on their roster, complimented by some very talented youngsters in Richard Myler and Jordan Turner. Both of these two looked very impressive during the Reds’ NL1 campaign (Myler looked good enough to reach the England train-on squad for the World Cup) and will be looking to hit the ground running in Super League.
Of course, there’s a world of difference between looking good in NL1 and looking good in Super League, and the key to their success this year is whether the players who were so successful last season can make the adjustment in standard and intensity required. They haven’t recruited as extensively as teams who get promoted usually do (although the players they have brought in are of a decent quality) and the jump up in standard could prove to be a shock to the system at first. If they can adjust, then the Reds should be fairly competitive.
For Salford this season a successful campaign would involve reasserting themselves as a Super League mainstay. I think they’ll be competitive for the most part but they’ll probably have to endure some rocky patches as well. Of course if they get lucky they might scrape into the playoffs, but there’s a logjam of teams trying to sneak their way into the bottom of the eight and I think Salford’s priorities should involve re-establishing a firm footing in Super League before aiming too high too early. With the licencing system now in place, I think they can take their time in letting Myler and Turner get used to the rigours of Super League.
Pros: Super League returns to Manchester after a season in the National Leagues. Salford have positive momentum on their side after their extra-time victory over Celtic Crusaders in October. They are a side which combines a fair number of players who have done the rounds in Super League with distinction (not to mention a coach who’s fits that category) with a few outstanding younger talents as well.
Cons: Promoted sides rarely challenge straight out of the gate, and it’s hard to see Salford being an exception. Whilst they looked very good at NL1 level last season, looking good in Super League is going to take a whole new level of effort, and they might struggle to adapt straight way. On top of this you have to that Malcolm Alker’s ‘incident’ in Florida is an unwelcome distraction, which Salford will hope doesn’t destabilize team spirit.
Coach: Shaun McRae has been there, done that at Super League level. He couldn’t keep Salford in Super League two seasons ago when he first took the job, but he was on a hiding to nothing and did well in steering the Reds to the National League title last year. Look for him to use his first full season in Super League since 2003 to reassert his reputation as one of the better coaches in the game. Also look for him to be the studio guest for Sky’s coverage multiple times during the season.
Captain: Err, the undisclosed indiscretion by Alker during their trip to Florida which saw him stripped of the captaincy means that we don’t quite know yet. Probably Robbie Paul, with Rob Parker and John Wilshere also being candidates.
Key Man: Richard Myler had such an outstanding campaign in National League One last season that he ended the year with an international cap against Wales. He proved to be a try-scoring machine in NL1, and also a more-than-adept playmaker. With pace to burn and confidence to match Myler is being touted as a potential Next Big Thing by some people (including Alex Murphy) and the faster he adapts to Super League level, the better off Salford are going to be.
Young ‘un: Well Myler is of course only 18, but there’s another very promising youngster at Salford in Jordan Turner. Playing at loose forward and with pace and power to burn, this England Academy player was another youngster who excelled at National League level and now needs to show he can step up to the challenge of Super League. He offers a level of dynamism that adds something extra to the Reds’ pack.
Wild Card: Jeremy Smith is a former New Zealand international halfback, and is not to be confused with current Kiwi second-rower Jeremy Smith. To think that both Jeremies played in the same test… isn’t there a rule against that kind of thing? Anyway, he never really got going at South Sydney and will be looking to kickstart his career at Salford. It will be interesting to see what he does to the harmonics that Myler and Robbie Paul have been developing.
Gains: Ray Cashmere, Jeremy Smith, Mark Henry, Luke Swain, Willie Talau, Rob Parker
Not quite the signings of a team with soaring play-off ambitions, but there’s a few more-than-effective Super League performers. Talau hardly looked finished at Saints and should be a steadying influence in the Reds’ backline. Parker can also give the team the go-forward it will need.
Losses: Mat Gardner, Steve Bannister, Andrew Brocklehurst, Paul Highton, Chris Borgese, Andy Ballard, Luke Ambler, Daley Williams
A team coming up to Super League from the National Leagues usually loses a number of players who fulfilled their requirements in the lower leagues, and Salford are no exception. What’s slightly odd is the players they are losing to Super League clubs, with Gardner hoping to become a Brian McDermott restoration project at Harlequins and Luke Ambler making the curious move to the Rhinos.