The Rugby League fraternity can be a sceptical lot, and sometimes it takes a new voice to make people sit up and take notice of what is going on in the game.
When Dr. Marwan Koukash was encouraged to look into taking over the Salford City Reds by the RFL chief executive Nigel Wood, few could have envisaged the stir that he would cause in his attempt at turning the Reds into a Super League force to be reckoned with.
Koukash, up until January of this year was known to sports fans as a racehorse owner and had just come off a successful 2012 season with over 100 winners to his name. As he rode into the Salford City Stadium as their saviour few could believe that a man, despite living a stone’s throw away from the rugby league hotbed of St.Helens, who only had a passing interest in the game could turn the Reds around.
This season so far has not gone well. Only four wins and a draw from 19 super league games illustrate the plight which Salford have found themselves in, and the worse defence and attacks highlight the dire need for much better players.
For many months, Koukash has talked the talk. Salford have been linked with just about every big name player available, or not available as the case may be, from Sam Tomkins to Adrian Morley to Rangi Chase.
It is possible that Morley may well end up there, with him coming to the end of his Warrington contract, and with his assertion that he would like to finish his playing days with his hometown club. The people of Salford would certainly welcome one of their own to be part of the Koukash revolution.
One of Koukash’s most important signings has been made already though, with the arrival of ex Bradford, Wigan and Great Britain coach Brian Noble into the coaching hot seat. Noble knows what it takes to build a side over time, and importantly he also knows how to take a side from the depths of the table into the play off places, which is what he did with the ill fated Crusaders. A play off place will be seen as a minimum requirement in the 2014 season, if Koukash gets half the players he is after.
Recruitment of players, who will want to play for a trophy winning coach and for a franchise determined to climb the table will now be priority. There will be plenty of disappointments for the Reds management team, as players will be reluctant to take what they may see as a backward step in their career, despite Salford’s new found wealth.
The news of Elliot Whitehead signing for Catalan Dragons rather than the Reds, after Salford had met Bradford’s asking price will have come as a disappointment, but the 23 year old second rower wanted a club with top four aspirations. Salford’s top four aspirations will take time to materialise.
One player to take the plunge and become the first of what Salford’s management hope will be a host of big name players arriving at Barton is New Zealand international Junior Sa’u. While not having as much game time at the Melbourne Storm as he would have liked, Sa’u will be a player that the newly named Red Devils fans will welcome with open arms after all the speculation. He is quality and he is signed up, not just lip service or rumour. He will also be a player who will help draw the crowd back to the City of Salford and get a buzz back to the place with his no nonsense style.
With that first piece of the playing jigsaw in place, and a further four players confirmed but not yet named, Koukash is starting to put his money where his mouth is. Now Sa’u, and the players who will survive Noble’s cull in the off season require additions who will enhance some good young players who have had to carry the club this season.
For many months now, speculation has raged about who Salford have in their sights, but due to the salary cap, which Koukash has already threatened to deliberately flout to get the players he wants, progress will more than likely not be as rapid as he hopes. The continued speculation is good for the club and the game in general. It keeps them in the public’s conscience and raises the profile of this once great establishment which are once again hoping to reach the heights of previous years.
Koukash has come into the game and split opinion amongst the games supporters. While many cast envious or disapproving looks in Salford’s direction as they try and cherry pick the best talent, most will see the arrival of a man prepared to back himself and his team as only a good thing for the sport.
If he can entice some of the Salford developed players back to the club who have had to be sold by the previous board to help balance books, then even better,
Salford fans have been through a lot in the last few years, and with the first signs of improvement coming off the pitch, on field results will soon follow. Next season will be the one Reds fans will be eager for, and while they wait to see who the good Doctor has lined up to wear their famous colours in 2014, they should embrace the raised profile and the attention their club is receiving after years of cellar dwelling.
And if Doctor Koukash has his way, the original Red Devils could see themselves making the short trip to Old Trafford to compete in a grand final in the coming years.
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