Ian Watson – “It’s going to be a great local derby”

David Clegg Meets With Head Coach, Ian Watson, Ahead Of Sunday’s Pre-Season Friendly With Swinton

It is two or three years since we last had a pre-season friendly against Swinton, but for fans of a certain age, the very mention of such a game evokes memories of the days of the Red Rose Cup, and others of its predecessors., and the stirring battles to lift that first piece of silverware of the season, which invariably resulted.

Since the loss of Station Road, however, the Lions have operated in one or other of the Championship leagues, and matches of any description against them have been few and far between. So to have the opportunity to turn out against the team which for so many years was our nearest neighbour, provides us with a fittingly traditional start to the year,

For Head Coach, Ian Watson, it is an even more emotive and enthralling encounter, with his having coached and played for both clubs over the years.

”It’s going to be a great local derby,” he enthuses.  “Salford and Swinton have always been one of the big local derbies of rugby league, and I still remember being taken to them as a lad, and even being ball boy at one or two of them, whilst watching the likes of Tex Evans coming up against les Holliday.

“The local rivalry always seemed to ensure some great games, and there was always the really good banter between the two groups of supporters.  I used to absolutely love going to them, whether at The Willows or Station Rd.”

After a particularly traumatic period towards the end of last season, everything came out right for the Lions, both on and off the field, and they will, consequently, be fighting it out in the Championship once again this coming year, having avoided relegation to League 1 by beating Oldham in the final game of the season.

“Swinton are now in a process of rebuilding, and as part of this, are training down here at the A J Bell,” he divulges, “which is enabling them to get back into their community once again.

“They already have a good set of players there, and a good group of coaches led by former Salford centre, Stuart Littler, so they will certainly be coming here to test us, and we’re looking forward to that.”

For any fan, at any game, seeing their team win is the number one priority but for Ian, as coach, there are a number of other issues which vie with that.

“We are a really competitive group, but you want to be able to see the players blending together,” he concedes.  “There are also a number of small things within the game that I shall be looking for, but  also want to go out there and see them winning.”

With one less friendly game than in previous seasons in which to do so, Ian will have the task of ensuring that he gets to see all his players in the various combinations he is considering.

“I am especially keen for them to get consistency in playing together, and we do have a few players new to the squad, but basically we have the nucleus of a team who know what we do and how we go about it, which helps the new recruits,” he judges.  “What these players need is as much game time under their belts, so that they can get into our systems, and we can see them doing all the right things in a game situation.

“We have had a great pre-season, but so will everyone else, until such times as they play in a game, because then you are tested under pressure.  So there are few things there for to think about.

“On Sunday, we will start out with a strong team, and then we’ll slot others in and out, because we want to see what they can do.”

In some respects the fact that the squad can cope with a game less in the build up to the season is probably testament to the stability and increasing maturity of the playing squad over the last two seasons.

“We coaches sat down at the start of the preseason and set out what we wanted, where we were at, and where we wanted to get,” he explains.  “The fact that two of our new signings, Manu Vatuvei and Tyrone McCarthy, had played with us already was a bonus, and we have also had a couple of training runs with North Wales Crusaders and Toronto, which have been really good for us.

“Sunday’s game will build on all of that.”

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee – Mr M Griffiths

Touch Judges – S Houghton,  A Smith

KO –  1.00pm