Salford have new owners and a new vision but will they lose some of their star names?
Captain: Mark Flanagan/Lee Mossop
Coach: Ian Watson
2017 Position: Regular season – 4th. Super 8s – 7th
Key player – Robert Lui
It’s seat of the pants time for Salford fans because Hull KR’s interest in their stand-off Robert Lui is a little discomforting. The club have made it clear they have no interest in selling but what if the money gets too big?
It’s easy to understand why the Robins want Lui for their first campaign back in Super League. The stand-off was one of the Red Devils’ star performers in an excellent 2017 campaign, which saw the club finish fourth in the regular season before collapsing in the Super 8s.
Lui kept Salford’s attack ticking over and made 23 try assists. nine more than any other team-mate, while scoring six tries.
Half-back partner Michael Dobson has now gone. And so has destructive second rower Ben Murdoch-Masila.
All the pressure is on Lui to deliver.
Fresh Face – Jack Littlejohn
There are a few decent names in at Salford this winter, including Fiji World Cup star Ben Nakubuwai in addition to Tyrone McCarthy and Manu Vatuvei, who both signed at the end of last season.
The man Salford need to deliver however is Jack Littlejohn.
The half-back has the difficult task of replacing the departing Michel Dobson but Littlejohn made 14 appearances for West Tigers last season in the NRL, so he arrives with a bit of pedigree.
He will have to build a partnership with Lui, as Salford look to rebuild and this duo need to gel quickly if the Red Devils are to match the exploits of 2017.
One to watch – The new board
Salford’s off-season has been dominated by what’s happened off the field.
Dr Marwan Koukash has handed the club over to a consortium of fans after five years at the helm. He has been a big personality in the sport, like him or loathe him, and voiced big ideas, including the marquee player vote that Super League clubs adopted.
Wakefield Trinity vs Salford Red Devils
February 9, 2018, 7:30pm
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But despite providing squads capable of competing, Koukash struggled to really pull in more supporters, and despite last campaign’s on-field success, attendances remained low.
Now Koukash has stepped aside, a new not-for-profit holding company, Salford RD Holdings, have taken charge. Will they be able to solve the attendance problems, the issues with the club’s academy, and move the team forward in the way the good doctor ultimately struggled to do?
Reasons for optimism
The off-field issues are over, the takeover is completed and there’s a new vision and new era on the horizon for Salford.
They also have a coach in Ian Watson who achieved great things last season. The way he led the club, despite off-field turmoil, to a regular fourth-place finish was outstanding.
Will he be able to build on what the club achieved last year? And will the new board be able to turn Salford into a profitable organisation, capable of growing their crowds into a genuine Super League force?
There’s plenty to be answered in 2018.
Reasons for concern
All the above could fail. But looking a little closer to home, there are a few on-field issues of pressing concern for Salford fans before the season kicks off.
And that’s the loss of two key members of the playing staff. We’ve mentioned the immediate impact that Littlejohn will have to make to replace the influential Michael Dobson.
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But the sale of Ben Murdoch-Masila to Warrington will definitely hurt more. He scored 14 tries in attack, offering a dangerous physical presence, threw plenty of offloads and did the dirty work in defence as well.
He was one of the stars of the season, in a side that overachieved, and a player like that is almost impossible to replace.