Salford Red Devils
Stadium: The AJ Bell
Coach: Ian Watson
Last season’s finish: 1st in The Qualifiers
Say what you like about the Salford Red Devils, things at the AJ Bell are rarely dull.
Following a promising 2017 that saw them make it to the Challenge Cup Semi-Final and finish 4th at the end of the regular season, the Reds started 2018 under a cloud of uncertainty.
The departure of Chairman and benefactor Marwan Koukash forced Salford to sell two of their prized assets, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Gareth O’Brien, and come the mid-way point of the year, you would have been forgiven for tipping the Red Devils for relegation with the side languishing at the bottom of the table.
If history tells us anything about Salford however, it’s that when everyone is writing them off, they never seem to listen (see the 2016 Million Pound Game). Despite looking somewhat undercooked for much of the regular season, some shrewd recruitment ahead of the Qualifiers saw the Red Devils burst into life.
The signing of halfback Jackson Hastings raised a few eyebrows given his well-publicised fallout and subsequent departure from Manly Sea-Eagles. But if the young Australian was coming over with weight on his shoulders, he certainly didn’t play like it.
Alongside fellow former Manly recruit Joey Lussick, Hastings transformed Salford into a side that looked like a genuine threat from anywhere on the park. An explosive 20 minute debut against Leeds on the last day of regular season seemed enough to breathe new confidence into the side, and from that point on, the Devils looked like a different beast.
It would, of course, be crass to attribute Salford’s survival to one man. Ian Watson is one of the best young coaches in the game and continues to work wonders on limited resources. There is also talent throughout the squad. Rob Lui has the ability to win a game on his own, and fullback Niall Evalds capped off another solid year with an England Knights cap against PNG.
Looking into 2019, and the Red Devils will be hoping to be able to carry their end of year form across the whole season, and be in the mix for a top half finish. Winger Ken Sio is the big name recruit with Gil Dudson and Adam Lawton also joining Salford for the 2019 season.
— Betfred (@Betfred) January 18, 2019
Sio has proven himself in the Super League with Hull KR and has had impressive spells in the NRL and will offer an aerial threat to the Red Devils attack, as well as his pace.
Lawton is somewhat of an unknown quantity, but could turn out to be one of the signings of the season. The forward was hugely impressive for Widnes in 2014 and was being tipped for big things before taking a sabbatical to visit Australia. If he can recapture that form for Salford he could be a massive asset to their side, but having spent 4 years out of the professional game, this remains to be seen.
In terms of season expectations, Ian Watson will be desperate to avoid another fight for survival and at face value, his squad certainly looks stronger than it did this 12 months ago. If the Red Devils can keep a clean bill of health throughout the campaign, they could surprise a few people in 2019.
What do the experts think?
Paul Sculthorpe: “After a promising start to the 2018 season, the wheels on Ian Watson’s team fell off! After an 11th placed finish before the play-offs… enter Jackson Hastings! They finished the Super 8 Qualifiers in top spot! With Hastings and new signing Ken Sio – they will win games for sure, but I don’t think they possess a big enough squad to challenge.”
Star man? Jackson Hastings
Predicted finish? 10th
Jamie Peacock: “The Red Devils have a very good player in Hastings, but I fear that again, off field problems will hamper on-field performance.”
Predicted finish? 11th
The 2019 Betfred Super League kicks off in:
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