This Friday Salford will kickstart their campaign, down at the AJ Bell Stadium up against reigning World Club Champions Wigan Warriors. Salford will be hoping for a better result than they got in this fixture last year, when Wigan ran out 26-16 winners. Let’s take a look at the two teams.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
SALFORD RED DEVILS
Salford go into this game on the back of a mixed resulted pre-season. They started up against Swinton Lions who they comfortably beat 50-12, before succumbing to an 18-6 defeat to Warrington Wolves at the Halliwell Jones, their only try coming through the enigmatic Robert Lui.
Salford ended 2017 with two heavy defeats against Leeds Rhinos and St Helens, losing 44-2 and 30-4 respectively. After what was a tremendous start to the campaign for the Red Devils, they ended it on a real low, winning one of their last 11 games. Head coach Ian Watson will be hoping for a quick start to the season for his troops.
Wigan had three pre-season games this year- however, only one of them was contested by their first team, with their reserve side taking part in the other two. Their first team secured a fine 22-14 victory over Championship Leigh, with tries from Sam Tomkins, Oliver Gildart, Gabriel Hamlin and Jake Shorrocks.
Like Salford, Wigan ended their 2017 camping on a real downer, losing their final two games against Castelford and Wakefield. Shaun Wane, who himself admitted that his side failed to live up to their 2017 billing, will be hoping to make a statement of intent with his largely-unchanged squad as they head to their local rivals.
SALFORD RED DEVILS
Jack Littlejohn is in contention to make his Betfred Super League debut for the Red Devils, while Luke Burgess could also make his first regular Super League start. Ryan Lannon will serve the last game of his three-match suspension, while winger Manu Vatuvei (Achilles) misses out.
Red Devils squad: Jake Bibby, Luke Burgess, Niall Evalds, Mark Flanagan, George Griffin, Weller Hauraki, Greg Johnson, Josh Jones, Craig Kopczak, Jack Littlejohn, Robert Lui, Tyrone McCarthy, Lee Mossop, Gareth O’Brien, Junior Sa’u, Lama Tasi, Logan Tomkins, Kris Welham and Josh Wood.
Shaun Wane has named new signings Gabe Hamlin and Dan Sarginson in the squad to face Salford this Friday. Joe Burgess (thigh), Sean O’Loughlin (calf) and John Bateman (finger) all miss out on the opening game of the 2018 season. All three are expected to be fit for Wigan’s next game on the NSW Tour.
Warriors Squad: Tony Clubb, Tom Davies, Morgan Escare, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Liam Forsyth, Oliver Gildart, Gabe Hamlin, Willie Isa, Tommy Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Powell, Dan Sarginson, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Joel Tomkins, Sam Tomkins and George Williams.
These two sides met four times last season- two in the regular season, one in the Challenge Cup and again in the Super 8s. Wigan won three of those, to Salford’s one. Their first meeting came in the opening game of 2017, when Wigan won 26-16 down at the AJ Bell Stadium. Salford got their revenge in the reverse fixture at the DW Stadium, where they comfortably beat the Warriors 31-16.
Then, the two would meet in the Challenge Cup Semi-Finals, where Wigan also a secured a 27-14 victory over Watson’s side in the Challenge Cup, before romping to a 42-6 win in the Super 8’s.
It will be interesting to see how the two half-back combinations fare against one-another. The newly-formed Robert Lui and Jack Littlejohn combination will be going up against Wigan’s George Williams and Sam Powell. Warriors fans also know that Sam Tomkins is capable of providing added creativity to the backline, which will surely enable a more flambuoyant Wigan outfit this year.
Salford head coach Ian Watson:
“We’ve obviously not been able to spend what Wigan spent, but hopefully we can show that we’ve recruited the right guys and the right kind of quality in the right areas.
“It’s a good one for us again,” said Watson. “I like having a tough team straight away because it really beds you in, and makes you really up for the season.
“You’ve got to be on your metal when you are playing against a Wigan team, especially a Wigan team who had quite a lot of guys who have not been in the World Cup this year, and spent some time at home, like Sam Tomkins and Liam Farrell, so it will be an interesting first game for us.”
Wigan head coach Shaun Wane:
“I’m hungry, angry and just agitated about how we faded at the end of last year,” he said. “The way we went out is not Wigan standard. I can remember all of the games at the back-end of the year and how I felt after them.
“Hopefully we’ve put things in place so that never happens again. There’s definitely a hunger there with the players and a bit of anger. Everybody’s writing us off and we’re motivated to put it right.”
“I’ve heard a few things being said about the team and we have discussed it and want to put things right. But talk is cheap. We have trained really well so let’s see what happens when we start playing.”
Salford have only managed to beat Wigan twice in their past 20 meetings, in all competitions.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 2nd February 2018
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium, Salford
Kick-off: 19:30pm (GMT)
Referee: Robert Hicks
WHO WILL WIN?
This is a good game for both sides, and an opener that could go either way. I do think Wigan need a good start to 2018 – and with the extra quality on their side, they should do that here.
Wigan Warriors by 14