As the Salford Red Devils take to the field in the aptly named, Theatre of Dreams, for their first time in a Super League Grand Final, we shall be finding out the perspectives on the whole event of the three members of our Leadership Group, ahead of the game.
Vice-captain, Tyrone McCarthy, has had a range of similar experiences, which will help both himself, and some of the younger players, who might be looking to him for guidance.
“I’ve been quite fortunate to have played in a few finals during my career, both with Warrington and Hull KR, but it was our appearance in the Wembley Cup Final with Rovers, which, as underdogs, was most similar to our situation here at Salford. As it turned out, it was a day to forget, so it would be really good for me personally to be able to put a few things right, on Saturday,” said McCarthy.
“Within our squad we’ve become determined that we are not simply happy just to be there, because we’ve not achieved anything yet. No-one remembers the runners-up. We’ve to go there and make a fight of it, because it’s our opportunity to win something. After all, there are only two teams now who can win it, and we are one of them.
“One of the things I struggle with is the low expectation of us from people in general. I can understand this when it has been so long since Salford have appeared in a final of anything, but the club’s changing very much for the better. The belief has been inherent within the team from the start of the season, and hopefully it’s starting to influence everyone else now.
“One of our goals has been to reach a final, and we were really disappointed with not progressing further in the Challenge Cup, so that just left the Grand Final. With Saints being the stand-out team of the season, the other place was left open for any one of half a dozen sides to get through, and we were the ones who really stepped up.
“In the run up to the end of the season, Wigan were on a roll, and we knew that they were the ones we really had to beat in order to make it through. We took a lot out of our own performances rather than the results, as, throughout the whole of the season, there had only been one match which had blown out against us and that was an early home game against Leeds.
“Other than that, we have lost by only a handful of points, and that is the measure of a consistent side.
“Even now, I would have given anything to have made both this and the Challenge Cup Final, but with such a small playing squad, it is probably the case that we benefited from the couple of breaks we had as a result of that early exit to Hull KR. Indeed, we managed to get away with the whole squad and do some team bonding, which was extremely beneficial in building team spirit, just by being in, and enjoying, each other’s company.
“This sort of thing is rather undervalued by many, but I can fully see the benefits it can bring on the pitch. Being a relatively small squad also helps with this, because everyone is in with a chance of being brought into the team, at any given moment.
“I was struggling for selection at the start of the season, but it was up to me to get my name back in the hat and regain a starting shirt, once again. Everyone else has similarly worked to regain their place, when necessary, and to hold onto it thereafter.
“For us now, it has been a case of just enjoying the week and not playing the game before it actually happens. We are fully aware that Saints are an amazing team and that we will have to be at our very best to match them.
“Although I have been on the winning side with Warrington in two Challenge Cup Finals, I have not been so fortunate in Grand Finals, so this will be an opportunity for me to put that right. My debut for Salford was in the Challenge Cup semi-final, at Warrington, two years ago, and we have grown so much since then, and we are now in a lot better position than we were at that time, despite having been in the top four in addition to the semi-final.
“There was an attitude back then that having made the top four and semi-final was good enough, whereas that is not the feeling in the camp now. Also, in that match, when a bit of adversity set in, the belief fell away, whereas this year there have been examples of quite the reverse happening.
“Come Saturday, we have to mix enjoying the occasion with keeping focused as to why we’re there. There’s no reason to change anything that we’ve been doing. We all just have to have that confidence to go out and play our best game, because there is no bigger stage on which to do it.”