Prop, Daniel Murray, Looks Back Over His First Two Seasons At Salford
Three years ago, far from the rigours of an English winter, our up and coming prop forward, Dan could be found, briefly, playing in the French Rugby League with Avignon, as a result of an arrangement, between them, and his home club at the time, Warrington Wolves, with the purpose of utilising and developing players of both camps.
On his return to the Halliwell-Jones, he set his sights upon achieving a fulltime Super League contract by the end of the season – something he achieved, not with the Wolves but by joining us here at Salford.
“It all happened very quickly, over a couple of weeks, in May 2016, and I was pleased to come here, at the start of that November, to join up for pre-season training,” he proudly maintains. “When I arrived I found a very tightly-knit group of players, who immediately included me among them, and since then I have developed my own role, which is both accepted, and valued.
“It was my first experience of training full-time, and I was struck by the attention to detail that this brought, and of course I also got to wear the Salford shirt for the first time, in a pre-season friendly, at Rochdale.”
The season which followed was to see him make increasingly frequent appearances, as the months progressed.
“Making my Super League debut was my big goal for the year, and I was able to achieve this by mid-season when I was included on the bench, for the away match against Widnes Vikings,” he recounts
“There had been some ongoing doubt over the fitness of George Griffin all week, as he had been suffering from concussion from the previous match, and I had been put on standby. When he failed the head test, I was brought in.”
Obviously, with his having set such great store on getting into the team, he was absolutely delighted, but what made it all the more special was the fact that it just happened to be on his twenty-first birthday.
“It was a dream come true,” he confides, “because all I had ever wanted to do was play Super League. I felt quite relaxed when I arrived at the stadium, because I always school myself not to think about the game during the day, so that it doesn’t get me too tensed up.
“I came on ten minutes before halftime, and when I took the ball in, on my first carry, I knocked out their hooker. He was only a young kid and he caught his head on my elbow; that definitely settled some nerves for me.”
With game-time of around twenty minutes, Dan was well satisfied with his first outing, feeling that he had found his feet in the game, and when he came to evaluate his contribution he felt it gave him an accurate indication as to the areas on which he needed to work.
He had a few weeks in which to do this ahead of his next appearance for our visit to Wigan, which, for a born and bred Wiganer like himself, was more than he ever could have dreamed of.
“That was something really special for me having spent all my time as a lad watching them from the stand,” he reflects. “It was a most strange experience, when I turned up, looking round the stadium and spotting the seat I used to sit in.”
The fact that the team came away with their first ever win at the DW Stadium, and their first Wigan away victory for twenty years, gave Dan and everyone else, much to celebrate.
“The win made it very special, and I had a big high from the whole occasion,” he recalls. “I’d had a number of my family, who are all Wigan fans, wishing me, personally, good luck, but still passionate for Wigan to win.”
A trio of ‘W’s was completed a couple of weeks later, with his return after eighteen months to Warrington. Far from having that uneasy ‘deja vu’ feeling in returning to his roots, it all proved to be something of a novelty.
“I’d only ever played at U19 level and not even in a curtain raiser, so it was a brand new experience for me arriving at the Halliwell-Jones,” he explains. “I’d left on good terms with them, though, and was really glad to meet up with everyone again, and it was really good to be there playing against them.”
It is testament to the regard in which he is held at his former club, that, despite his coming out on the winning side, his former mentors were more than gracious in defeat, proffering their congratulation to him and the rest of the team.
“They are a very professional outfit at Warrington, and know how to accept defeat with a good grace,” he points out.
His contribution in these three outings then led to a number of others towards the end of the season, his next call-up coming with his very first time in the starting line up, in the penultimate fixture of the regular season, away at Castleford.
“Good as it was to be in from the start, it was really disappointing to have lost,” he considers, “and it was especially so on the coach, coming back. Nevertheless, it was a new experience for me going toe to toe with the best team in the league, straight from the kick-off.”
Two further home call-ups in the Super 8s, against Castleford once more, and St Helens brought down the curtain on a most satisfying season for him, and everyone else. His aim of consolidating a regular place in the first seventeen at the start of last season, did not, however, materialise, and he found himself, once again on loan at Halifax where he had enjoyed a stint the previous year.
“I was really happy to be going back there, and when I arrived it felt as though I’d never left,” he recalls. “I was there for about six weeks, and, with the exception of a home game against Toronto, and an away one at Toulouse, we won all the others, including a victory over Leigh.
“They were struggling at the time, and we used that to our advantage. It was a great team performance which saw us through, and I really enjoyed the win.”
His return to Salford, at Easter, saw him selected for his first Super League game of the season, against Leeds in the dreadful, unseasonal weather that had to be endured on the Easter Monday.
“It was touch and go for anyone trying to get over there, with all the snow over the tops, and for us on the field it was like the old days of winter rugby. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t turn our overall dominance, especially in the second half, into points, which had been one of the let-downs in our performances in the early part of the season,” is his assessment of the outing.
“I’d been to the Emerald Headingley Stadium on many occasions to watch, but it was absolutely great to go there to play.”
Despite getting some extremely positive feedback, however, he was not selected again until early May when he took his opportunity to cement his place in the team, as a result of injuries to a number of other players, starting with a return to the DW Stadium, followed by the away match at St Helens, and then his first ever involvement on the big stage of the Magic Weekend, in St James’s Park, Newcastle, to face Catalans Dragons.
“I really enjoyed the experience of staying overnight with the rest of the team,” he enthuses. “I always enjoy spending time with the lads because it helps with relationships both on and off the field, which gives you that extra one percent in a game.
“I can remember walking out of the tunnel and it just opened up into a tremendous atmosphere. The pitch was immaculate, and the weather, this time, was great for it – warm and sunny. It was a great occasion too, but yet again we just couldn’t find the try line.”
Those three matches heralded a run of games which took him up to the end of the regular season, two of which stood out in his memory, for him. He really enjoyed the trip down to Catalans, where he was also especially pleased with his own performance, clocking up fifty tackles and twenty carries, which was absolutely tremendous.
“I was made to feel highly valued by everyone. Senior players like Mark Flanagan were coming up to me saying ‘Well done’, which made me feel good, and helped me to push on, afterwards,” he proudly relates.
The other fixture which was most special to him was the home game with Leeds, which was also the Super League debut for new recruit, Jackson Hastings.
“His arrival changed everything, and from the moment he arrived he brought a vast increase in our self-belief,” Dan considers. “Everyone just fed off his energy, and his personal presence on the field. He only played for twenty minutes that night, but what he did in that time set us up for a tremendous victory.
“I, personally, just felt that this lad knew exactly what he wanted and that I just had to work with him and do exactly what he asked from me.”
The return of many of the injured players at the start of the Qualifiers rather limited Dan’s appearances towards the end of the season, over which he was disappointed but, fair-mindedly, appreciated the reasons behind this.
“I shall learn from that going into 2019, and ensure the areas which I need to work on, are addressed,” is his concluding promise. “There will always be competition for places, at any club, and I will work to make that the case, from me. My shoulders are big enough to take whatever is required of me, and whatever challenges are put my way.”