Salford Red Devils – relegation candidates to Super League finalists
If you had told supporters of Salford Red Devils at the start of the season that they would reach the Super League Grand Final, very few would have believed you.
At the end of the 2018 season, Salford found themselves second-bottom in the league table and were obligated to play in the 2018 Rugby League Qualifiers. Last year also saw Salford average the lowest home attendance in the league, as well as the lowest overall attendance of only 2,248. It’s safe to say that times looked bleak for the 1976 Champions.
They managed to avoid relegation to the RFL Championship after finishing top of the qualifiers table, securing their place for the 2019 Super League season in the process. After a season that saw Salford occupy almost every position in the league, Ian Watson’s men soon found themselves in the play-off picture. After an initial loss to reigning champions Wigan Warriors, Salford won their remaining play-off fixtures and booked their place in the Super League Grand Final.
The final itself set a new Super League record for live TV audience since the competition began back in 1996. This season also saw the attendance AJ Bell Stadium more than double, with almost 6,000 supporters attending the play-off semi-final against Castleford Tigers.
Board member of Salford Red Devils Supporters Trust, Paul Whiteside, spoke to Salford Now about what he describes as an “incredible journey” for the club:
“It really came out of nowhere to be honest… It feels really good to be a Salford Supporter again” he said.“We had a run of three or four seasons. It’s the mentality we had. No one expected us to do anything, but the lads had this belief that they could challenge, and as the weeks went by everyone started to believe that we could do something”
“Jackson Hasting’s has been pivotal for us this season. He’s the one who has given us a boost both on and off this pitch this season. He seemed to put that belief into the rest of our players. He’s become a real hero at this club.
“We’ve not been to a major final since 1969, that’s fifty years. So most of us have never experienced anything like this before.
“Salford has always been the younger brother of the likes of Wigan and Leeds. Now we find ourselves on a level playing field and we believe we can beat them.
“It makes everything really exciting… hopefully it will encourage more people to comedown.
Despite ultimately losing to St Helens, fans from fellow Super League clubs took to Twitter after the game to congratulate Salford on what has been their most successful campaign to date:
Shortly after the final match at Old Trafford, Salford head coach Ian Watson spoke about how proud he was of the entire club:
“It’s been amazing what we’ve achieved this year… I said in the changing rooms, it’s probably bigger than getting to a Grand Final.
“The boys have got people to fall in love with their rugby team again in Salford, so on just that side hopefully it can help to build the club from the ground upwards, which is what we need to do.
“Hopefully, we can keep some of the supporters who have got behind us at the back end of the year”