IF you ask Salford Red Devils coach Ian Watson, being written off at the start of the season was the best thing that could have happened.
On Saturday the Red Devils will compete in their very first Betfred Super League Grand Final against St Helens after a rise few could have predicted at the start of the season.
Having been 150-1 outsiders before a ball was kicked, and with the backdrop of recent financial troubles, Salford pulled off spectacular win after spectacular win on a dream run to book their place in the play-offs.
Even defeat to Wigan Warriors in the qualifying final couldn’t stop them as Salford saw off the same opposition in semi-final two to leave them 80 minutes away from completing a fairy tale.
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🏟️ We're expecting quite a reception for the team, when they walk out at Old Trafford on Saturday!
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But this far-from-scripted story started in far humbler surroundings, with the motivation for Salford’s unprecedented journey coming by way of how they were given next to no hope to begin with.
“We knew we had players who didn’t want to be looking at relegation, they wanted to be challenging at the top end and beating the top teams and that’s something we spoke about as a group,” said Watson.
“We didn’t want people to think that as a group we were only worried about finishing above London [Broncos] and staying in the Super League.
“We wanted people to know that we’re competitors and we want to win things.
“It was added motivation. When people write you off and you’re a competitive person it hurts and you want to make sure you do the best you possibly can to rectify that.”
It wasn’t always this way as Salford’s season began inconsistently but things soon began to click.
Indeed, Watson credits their opponents on Saturday with helping turn his side’s fortunes around, pointing to the meetings of the two sides in February and May as big confidence boosters for Salford.
He added: “The two St Helens games were turning points for us. We learnt a hell of a lot from the first game at the AJ Bell Stadium where they understood when to turn the tempo up and when to ease off.
“When we went to St Helens we took those lessons with us and we felt we should have come away with a win, we felt like we’d lost that game more than Saints had won it.
“The game on Friday [the semi-final against Wigan] was potentially a blueprint for Saturday, that’s play-off rugby. It’s slightly different to how you can play through the season.
“On Friday it was a little bit wet and it’s looking like it’ll be that way on Saturday too so we’ll be looking for different ways to play without changing too much.”
At Old Trafford, Watson will need his best players to shine if a dream is to be realised and none more so than Jackson Hastings, who was named Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel at the Betfred Super League Awards on Sunday.
Hastings has turned his career around with the Red Devils following off-field troubles at NRL side Manly Sea Eagles by starring in Salford’s remarkable rise and Watson believes this is his chance to put his name into the history books.
Watson added: “Big games make big players so Jacko will be looking at this as a big opportunity to create a legacy for himself and the team.
“He has to do his job for the team though and can’t think it’s all about him, there’s a lot of other players in there who can help him create history.”
The Betfred Super League Grand Final is the biggest night in Super League and takes place at Old Trafford, the iconic home of Manchester United on Saturday 12 October (6pm KO). Secure your seat by visiting https://www.superleague.co.uk/tickets/grand-final