Super League Surprise Package of the Year: Salford Red Devils

No one could have predicted at the start of the season what Salford would achieve in 2019.

The Red Devils were left fighting for their lives at the back end of 2018 in the final season of the Middle 8s.

Thanks to late season signing Jackson Hastings, they managed to survive without the gut-wrenching experience of the Million Pound Game.

The main changes that were made in the off season were mainly in the forward pack. Lama Tasi, Weller Hauraki and Craig Kopzcak were among those to move on.

They added some NRL experience with Joey Lussick and Ken Sio coming into the squad from Manly and Newcastle respectively. Meanwhile, they added Gil Dudson, Adam Lawton and Adam Walker to replace the outgoing forwards.

The aim was to battle for the playoffs, which the Red Devils craved so much. They could have got it last season, had they not been so unlucky with injuries.

As a result of financial uncertainty at Widnes Vikings, they also managed to sign experienced back Krisnan Inu. His acquisition proved to be the most shrewd.

The season got underway at the start of February, and the Red Devils won their first three games against Huddersfield Giants, London Broncos and Hull KR. They won four of their first six matches, but a fall just before Easter saw them lose momentum.

But they carried on plucking away at the gap to the playoffs, and they moved into the top five after a win over Castleford Tigers.

Then in June, a swap deal saw them acquire Tui Lolohea from Leeds Rhinos. But as a result, they lost halfback Robert Lui, a player who played his part in the Red Devils’ rise in recent years.

Salford then ended the season with eight straight victories, unbeaten from July to the end of the regular season in September. They finished the season in third place, when just after Magic Weekend, they were in the battle for fifth place.

They entered the playoffs as the form side in the league, but they suffered defeat in their first game against Wigan Warriors in an incredibly close affair, but all was not lost as they welcomed the Tigers to the AJ Bell Stadium.

What followed was spectacular as they put 22 unanswered points on the Tigers, who had just beaten early season favourites Warrington Wolves to book their place in that game. It meant a chance for revenge against Wigan at the DW Stadium once more.

Wigan went into that game as heavy favourites, but put in another stunning performance to book their date at Old Trafford, just on the other side of the Manchester Ring Road.

They went to play the heavy favourites and League Leaders St Helens. They hadn’t beaten Saints in any of their previous fixtures this season, including their loss at the Totally Wicked Stadium which saw a controversial ending as Saints scored through James Bentley, a try which is still hotly debated to this day.

However, the fairytale would not have the ending to match as Saints proved too strong for Salford at Old Trafford, but it was still a great occasion for the club, who were just minutes away from relegation in 2016.

There will be a rebuild for 2020 as Josh Jones, Jackson Hastings, Jake Bibby, George Griffin and Derrell Olpherts are all moving on, but the club has already started to replace them.

Some much needed experience is coming in to replace them as Kevin Brown, Pauli Pauli and Dan Sarginson among others coming to the club next season.

It will be interesting to see where Salford can get to next season.

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