They may have lost a host of star names ahead of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, but Salford Red Devils are ready to embrace their creative side as they look to upset the odds.
The departures of Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers, and the return to Australia of Ken Sio, highlighted an off-season period punctuated by outgoings from the AJ Bell Stadium, but Paul Rowley’s side remain one of the most attractive propositions in the league heading into the new campaign.
And star full-back Ryan Brierley says that, while targets might be more modest this year at a time when Salford are currently as short as 6/1 to finish bottom of the Super League, there’s a new energy about the Red Devils’ squad.
“I think there’s probably a calming and realistic outlook,” Brierley explains to Betfred. “It’s well documented the quality we’ve lost in our team over recent months, but it’s something fresh and exciting, something new. Obviously, everyone at our club wants to learn each and every year, and when you add different people and personnel into that group it’s certainly exciting and interesting.
“Twelve months on from talking about trophies and stuff, I think this year we’ve got to make sure we do everything right before we start even thinking about them sorts of words. In terms of aspirations, I think there’s a realism that needs to be respected.
“There’s almost a satisfaction in being written off, isn’t there? When people start talking about you finishing bottom it certainly hurts. The bookmakers have their opinion, but the aspirations we have as a club haven’t changed from day one since I got here.
“This will probably take a little bit more time than previous years, but I think there’s a story ready to be written for some team, look at Leigh Leopards last year.”
The 2023 Leopards were a newly-promoted side looking to secure Super League safety at their fourth time of asking, but not only did they make the end-of-season play-offs by finishing fifth in the top flight, they also shocked the rugby league world by winning the Betfred Challenge Cup in dramatic fashion.
If Salford are to follow in Leigh’s footsteps by upsetting the doubters, coach Paul Rowley’s energy in such a situation will be a huge factor.
“It invigorates him, I suppose,” Brierley says of Rowley. “He likes being backs against the wall, doesn’t he? As a club I think that suits us, being disrespected as such, we kind of like the underdog approach. This year’s probably a bit extreme, but it’s been a place where, as a club, we’ve been comfortable being before.
“And you’re right, Rowls isn’t worried or flapping in any sense, and that can transfer to the playing group as well. We’re not stressed about the players who have gone, we’re just going to concentrate on being the best version of ourselves and making sure the Salford public have a team to be proud about.”
The 31-year-old is approaching his third season at the AJ Bell after signing a contract extension in the winter, and he says the experience of playing in front of like-minded Salford fans is one he continues to enjoy.
“I’m loving it. I signed an extension over the off-season, I’m glad to get all that sorted and out of the way. I don’t like things dragging on into the season, I like to concentrate on what I’m doing. Growing into a leadership role now has suited me, I enjoy it, I like being a part of that.
“And obviously I love playing for my boyhood team who I supported as a club, I don’t think I can get any better than that in rugby league. When you realise a dream you dreamt about as a kid, no one can ever take that away from you. Playing for Salford, I’m playing for my people… I’ve always said that. Those people who support Salford are my people and I don’t want to let them down.”
Salford’s bid to surprise people this year will depend on the ability to integrate new signings such as Joe Shorrocks and Nene Macdonald. Back-rower Shorrocks arrives from his local club Wigan having helped to win the Warriors a Grand Final and League Leaders’ Shield double in 2023, and he’s keen to embrace the new challenge under Rowley.
“As soon as I met him and [director of rugby] Ian Blease I was just really excited,” Shorrocks tells Betfred. “The way he was talking, the style he plays and the way he wants to play his brand of rugby is something that excites. Obviously it’s a new challenge coming from Wigan, it’s very different but I’m really enjoying it.
“They’re a tough team to play against, they chance their arm, they throw the ball about, which is something that attracted me to wanting to join the club. They play a bit off the cuff, they’re not afraid to throw it about wherever it is on the field.”
And Shorrocks says that, at 24, he can provide some experience from his Wigan spell while also learning something from Salford’s existing stalwarts.
“We’ve got some older heads like Brad Singleton and Kallum Watkins, and then we’ve got some youth coming through as well. I wouldn’t say I’m on the younger end of the team but I’d be about in the middle so I think we’ve got that blend right.
“Coming from Wigan, I feel like I’ve gained some valuable experience there, and coming to Salford I can use that experience to help me fulfil the role that Paul’s given me in this team. So that definitely can help me.”
Papua New Guinea international Nene Macdonald will add quality to the three-quarter line following his move from Leeds Rhinos. The 29-year-old has seven years of NRL football to his name, and he tells Betfred that Salford play just his kind of rugby league.
“It’s good, it’s the type of style that suits my footy so getting to play a bit more, playing around with the ball, throwing it around, it’s exciting,” he explains.
“Watching them play through the season, they like to play that old-school footy, see what they see and go for it. It’s something that I like to play and I can’t wait to get out there for the season.”
Salford’s campaign gets underway with a trip to Macdonald’s former Leeds Rhinos teammates at Headingley Stadium on Friday, February 16. Kick-off is at 20:00 GMT, with live coverage available on Sky Sports Arena and Sky Sports Main Event. The game will also be streamed live on SuperLeague+.
You can read all our latest Rugby League News and Tips at our dedicated Betfred Insights rugby league content hub.