Current league: NCL 1
Eccles enjoyed a perfect start to their National Conference League Division One season last Saturday, with a 30-6 win over Ince Rose Bridge.
Long time coach Paul Viller was delighted with the result, but after nearly two decades he has since decided that it would be his final game in charge.
Full responsibilty is being handed over to former player Paul Raftery, who returned to the Salford-based club after spells with professional sides such as Barrow, Rochdale and Swinton.
Viller, the rugby league equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson (his words not mine), will step down to take up a different role within the club, away from on-field matters.
This will be the first time the 48-year-old has not been involved in playing or coaching since the age of 16, when he started out with Salford Juniors (a local club now incorporated within the Roosters).
From there, like brothers Mark and Jason, he would go on to play professionally, signing his first contract with Rochdale at the age of 22.
Viller’s time at the Hornets saw him play under the tutelage of the late Don Preston, who was a big influence on his life and career. In 2012, alongside the likes of Adrian Morley and Denis Betts, Viller helped set up the inaugural Don Preston Memorial Trophy, in which an All-Star XIII took on a team of Manchester amateurs.
After Rochdale, mainly playing as a full-back, Viller moved on to Leigh and then Blackpool, before a loan spell with Hunslet. His professional career also included a trial stint at Swinton, as well as a brief second spell with the Hornets.
In 1996 he arrived at Eccles, and after a month he was instated as player-coach. In the 18 years since then Viller has overseen a number of successful seasons, especially considering the limited resources he has had to work with.
After gaining promotion from NCL 2 in 1998-99, Eccles have only ever been relegated back there once (2008-09), and they managed a return to NCL 1 as champions the following year.
Viller was also in charge for the club’s most succesful season in 2004-05, when they were promoted to the NCL Premier thanks to a second-place finish in NCL 1.
He has tried to hand over the coaching duties a number of times in recent years, but has been unable to find a replacement. At one point former Roosters player Kris Smith was to take over, but then due to his relationship with celebrity Dannii Minogue, he left for Australia.
With Raftery on board, Viller now feels the timing is right, especially with the talent in the current squad.
“After the win over Ince Rose Bridge on Saturday people were congratulating me rather than Raf, and that was unfair,” said Viller.
“He has done all the work with the players over the off-season, and he deserves to have the team as his own.
“It is a wrench to walk away after so long, and it was hard to drive off last night whilst the players still trained.
“It will take a lot of getting used to, but I’ll still be involved off the field, trying to raise money and making sure the club is running smoothly.”
Raftery will be looking for his side to build on their performance against Rose Bridge when they travel to Milford Marlins on Saturday.