SL Preview: Move over Marwan, Watson is Salford’s real doctor

Pound for pound, Salford’s Ian Watson has been the best coach in Super League over the past two seasons (sorry, Chris Chester fans).

Whenever you feel like writing them off, what with their off-field dramas and lack of depth due to their academy situation, you can just see his face staring and asking why.

He’ll go in to the season with 27 players, while others can call upon a full academy set-up. That’s beyond his control, as has been the financial hindrance that first hit him with a points deduction in 2016, and then distracted from a superb effort on the pitch in 2017.

For half of last season, Salford were in as good as place as they have been during the Super League era – and came within 80 minutes of Wembley.

OK, it ended much less impressively, but they have to dust themselves off and go again.

The losses of Michael Dobson and Ben Murdoch-Masila are huge. Jack Littlejohn has almost gone under the radar as a key signing in Super League, and there will be a lot of pressure on his shoulders, as well as those of Robert Lui, who came out of nowhere to be almost a Man of Steel contender having seemingly been phased out to accommodate Todd Carney.

Greater expectation and responsibility will be on Lui’s shouders in 2018, and it will also be interesting to see how Watson uses Gareth O’Brien and whether moving him back in to the halves, as we saw in the friendly against Swinton, is a long-term plan.

There is some size in the Red Devils pack, and they have done well to have recruited to the extent that the likes of Luke Burgess, Lama Tasi and Tyrone McCarthy sit outside their first 13.

The worry has to be if they hit an injury crisis, not a rarity in Super League, whether they have the reserves in place to maintain their top eight challenge.

All Dr Watson can do, is keep coaching the players he has got, and coaching them well. He’s done a good job so far, and they will be battle hardened for the Super 8s experience – a far more pleasant experience than what they went through 12 months previous.

Coach: Ian Watson
Assistant: Martin Gleeson
Captain: Weller Hauraki
Key Man: Jack Littlejohn
One to Watch: Kristian Brining

Ins: Gavin Bennion (Rochdale), Levy Nzoungou (St Helens), Jack Littlejohn (Wests), Luke Burgess (Catalans), Ben Nakubuwai (Gold Coast)
Outs: Olsi Krasniqi (Toronto), Adam Walne (Huddersfield), Jordan Walne (Hull KR), Michael Dobson (retired), Connor Williams (Hull KR), Liam Bent, Todd Carney, Ben Murdoch-Masila (Warrington)

Squad: 1 Gareth O’Brien, 2 Greg Johnson, 3 Kris Welham, 4 Junior Sa’u, 5 Niall Evalds, 6 Robert Lui, 7 Jack Littlejohn, 8 Craig Kopczak, 9 Logan Tomkins, 10 George Griffin, 11 Josh Jones, 12 Weller Hauraki, 13 Mark Flanagan, 14 Lama Tasi, 15 Ryan Lannon, 16 Luke Burgess, 17 Tyrone McCarthy, 18 Ben Nakubuwai, 19 Josh Wood, 20 Kristian Brining, 21 Manu Vatuvei, 22 Derrell Olpherts, 23 Lee Mossop, 24 Jake Bibby, 25 Levy Nzoungou, 26 Daniel Murray, 27 Gavin Bennion.

Prediction: 9th

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