Salford Red Devils head coach Paul Rowley is relishing having his first-choice spine back fit and available as they look to mount a play-off charge.
The Red Devils head to Huddersfield Giants tonight looking to put an end to a seven-game losing streak in all competitions which has seen them bow out of the Challenge Cup, but more importantly drop out of the top six in Super League.
If they are to make the play-offs for a second year running, points are needed quickly, with Rowley himself openly admitting that the clock is ticking earlier this week.
As they go in search of a much-needed win tonight, they’ll have a first-choice spine available for the second game running, and the boss couldn’t be happier about it.
Paul Rowley delighted to have ‘first-choice’ spine players back fit
Combined, the quartet of Ryan Brierley, Brodie Croft, Marc Sneyd and Andy Ackers have crossed for 15 tries this season. When you add regular interchange Chris Atkin, who slots comfortably into that Salford Spine, into the mix, the tally is 18.
They’ve all also have helped to set up countless more at some stage in the attacking phase leading to a teammate crossing, so it’s no surprise that their head coach is excited for their link-ups to return.
Rowley said: “I thought they were great against St Helens, and they’ll need to be again. Obviously you want your first choice out in any position, but everybody knows the spine is so crucial to how effectively your team can attack.
“It’s good to have them there, now they need to play well and put their best foot forward as individuals. Everybody around them needs to react and get on board.
“We’ve not had them continuously this year, but you can revert right back to pre-season when we had 14 internationals. I’ve heard a lot of coaches talk about the disrupted pre-season that they had, we had more internationals than any other club but yet boast the smallest squad.
“You talk about disruption and affected preparation, that combined with disruption through injuries all culminates in some pretty challenging times. They’re there to test you though, and that’s how strong people flourish and drive forward. That’s what we intend doing.”
Salford spine’s woes in 2023
The initial quartet listed above have missed a grand total of 12 games so far in 2023 through injury. Hooker Ackers brings up the brunt of that having missed eight alone.
Back in May, he returned from a concussion protocol against Hull FC only to take another bang to the head, and was sat on the sidelines for a further five matches, including their Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Hull KR.
Croft missed a defeat against Wigan Warriors alongside him back in June, and that pair were joined on the sidelines in Wakefield five days later as Trinity took two points off Salford.
Meanwhile, more recently, expert goal-kicker Sneyd missed a 42-0 drubbing in the South of France against Catalans Dragons.
For reference, Atkin actually hasn’t missed a single game all year to date.
Rowley won’t send Red Devils out with a ‘protective mentality’
Despite all of the above, Red Devils chief Rowley wants his most important players to lead from the front in these last six games.
He gave them – and the rest of the squad – some time off last week during a break in the Super League schedule, and now wants them to go hell for leather into the business end of the season.
The boss added: “We don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that [give time off], and if their partners or wives are a school teacher or in a profession that doesn’t allow breaks until a certain point, then it does become hard to juggle that work/life balance.
“I don’t think the time off did us well because we were mentally stressed or we needed it, I just think any opportunity to give back to the real troopers in the families who are behind us all the time, I enjoy being able to give them that time as a coach.
“Now, if you go out with a protective mentality, then you’ll come unstuck. It’s rugby, and there’s six games to go. We’ll empty the tank in every one of those games, save nothing in reserve and see where we get.
“Good fortune and good luck will just be what happens, we’ll control the controllables as always.”