Super League is back – thank fuck – and Lowry’s Lads are our first opponents at the HJ on Saturday, after Our Marwan successfully argued to the RFL that they shouldn’t have to play on Sunday like everybody else, because they’re playing again the Thursday after and their fragile players need an extra day’s rest. The poor lambs. He’ll be furious at Easter.
It’s been a typically busy off-season for the Doctor – now no longer so cocksure that he can turn the City Reds into world beaters, he’s decided he wants to create an NRL franchise in this country and instead turn them into world beaters. Either that or poach every other club’s best players to the NRL club and leave the door open for Salford to claim the Super League title while everyone else has been weakened. Who knows?
Who even cares? It’s a stupid idea and one that will never take off.
The Doc has already alleviated the pressure from his team and coach Iestyn Harris by declaring that Salford won’t win the league this year, Warrington – of all teams – will.
A declaration that can only be taken with a pinch of salt when on the Trafford Centre Reds’ own website, they have large banners boasting 2015 to be the ‘year of the Devil’.
It’s been a few years now since the Sydney City Reds moved out of their two up-two-down terraced gaff in Weaste and downscaled to their Studio apartment overlooking the sewage works at Barton, and despite their well-documented investment, they have struggled to progress at all on the pitch.
Harris will be hoping his squad are more settled this year and can finally gel. Koukash didn’t have much patience with Brian Noble and Harris has now had a full pre-season with his squad to drill home his philosophy and tactics. If things don’t happen for them this year with the money spent on the squad, you have to wonder how much longer Harris will last at the helm.
Kevin Locke’s official player profile on the Salford Sharks’ website describes him as a ‘potential match winner every week’ and the ability of Rangi Chase is unquestioned. In Mick Dobson, they have potentially the club’s best signing since Tex Evans, as he could provide the perfect foil to Chase’s off the cuff style of play. Dobson bossed Hull KR round the field in his time at Craven Park and Harris will be looking for him to command the same amount of control over his side, freeing up Chase to run at defences and cause havoc and leave the organising and kicking to the bald Australian. If they can click as a partnership, they could be one the best in the league.
But how much space and time the Sale Red Devils’ half backs will get on the ball determines on how well their pack does in getting on top of their opposition. Cory Patterson returns to rugby league hoping to add more punch to Harris’ forwards than he offered to his boxing career. Another player who looked good at Hull KR, his link up with Dobson down the right edge of the Reds’ attack will be pivotal you feel, especially with Locke at full back. Expect to see Dobson replicate the move he used at Rovers’, where the full back begins on his inside shoulder and he looks to run an overs line with Paterson, creating a gap for the full back to burst through on a short ball on his outside shoulder. Of course, Kevin Locke is no Greg Eden, but even without the next Billy Slater at your disposal, it will be a useful tool to create some space for the quick full back.
Up front with Paterson is Adrian Morley, who amazingly seems to get no plaudits for continuing to play as he nears 40, while most pundits sacrifice their first born male for the revered Lord God Jamie Peacock for doing the exact same. Funny world.
But beyond those two, the Irlam Red Socks’ pack hardly strikes fear into the heart of a team boasting the likes of Sims, Hill, Westwood and the criminally underrated Simon Grix in their pack. Gareth Hock can be a dangerous runner of the ball but he is such a liability. On his day he can cause problems – as he did for Widnes against us on the iPitch the other year – but he lacks the consistency or discipline to be a top quality player.
Again according to their official site, Manchester believe that Weller Huaraki is ‘a powerful runner with big hits in him’ and that ‘he is destined to become a firm crowd favourite’. They must have been watching a different bloke than I have been over the past few years at Cas, because all he ever resembled at Wheldon Road was a speed bump in defence and butter fingers with the ball.
While we have the reigning man of steel Daryl Clark and Micky Higham running out of dummy half, their options at hooker are the drummer from Motley Crue and Liam Hood, who was last year playing for Hunslet in Championship One, so the battle around the play the ball is one we should expect to win comfortably.
It will be interesting to see what combinations Smith goes with in the halves. We really need to settle on one and stick with it, give it time to develop and gel this year. The addition of Wheeler to the squad throws in another potential half back to an already long list of candidates.
If Salford Roosters have the edge anywhere on us, it’s that at least they know their starting half back combinations. That said, O’Brien and Myler were paired together in Bridge’s testimonial against Hull KR with Ratchford at full back and it would be no shock at all to see us start that way on Saturday having ran rampant against the Robins. We kept two clean sheets in 160 minutes of pre-season rugby against Super League opposition, displaying a ruthless stinginess in defence that bodes well. With Westwood relieved of the captaincy, expect to see him revert to his natural game of smack people first, ask questions later, while the promotion of Chris Hill to vice captain is a major vote of confidence from Tony Smith and could see the ex-Leigh man step up another gear this season after another impressive tour of duty for England.
You’d most likely expect this to be a bigger game for Salford than it will be for us. They’ll need to get off to a better start to the season this year if they are to crack the top 8, while beating Warrington – tipped by their owner and now Sam Tomkins to win the league – away will be considered a big scalp and no doubt boost their confidence.
But with the World Club Series game against the Illawara Steelers round the corner and an opportunity to test ourselves against an NRL side, I can’t see there being any pissing around at the start of the season this year. The team will be building up to that game now and most likely get the season off to good start as a consequence.