Salford's ability to build on last season's good work faces an immediate examination on their first afternoon of the Super League season today. Leeds are the visitors to The Willows and, unlike some early-season guests last year, they are well aware of what Karl Harrison's side are capable of.
Having made the play-offs last time, Salford have lost one element of surprise. They must hope that the changes they have made to their team will introduce another one. In place of Andrew Dunemann, who has gone back home to play with Canberra, they have recruited an Australian stand-off of a very different style in Luke Dorn. Where Dunemann was a scheming playmaker, the former Harlequins pivot is more of a finisher, with exceptional pace and effrontery.
His new partner, Luke Robinson, believes that the change of emphasis could help maintain the side's progress. "Last year we spent a lot of time attacking, without always turning our chances into tries," Robinson says. "Hopefully, we'll find it a bit easier to score points this time." Harrison is certainly relishing the possibilities. "We have two half-backs who want to attack the line now," he says. "That can be very difficult to play against."
Salford have also recruited two forwards who should give them extra impact up front in Mark Edmondson and Michael Korkidas. Edmondson's season with the Sydney Roosters never really got going, but Harrison plans to use the former St Helens man in the second row, rather than at prop, where his lack of size has always limited him.
There are no such problems with the powerful Korkidas, who often did damage to opposing packs during his three years at Wakefield. Harrison says that his attitude at his new club has been exemplary. "I've never known anyone ask so many questions," he says.
Leeds tailed off badly at the end of last season but they have the most eagerly anticipated newcomer in Super League to lift them this time. In the Tri-Nations, Brent Webb looked not only like the best full-back in the world, but pretty close to the best player in any position.
Tony Smith, the Leeds coach, is not one to inflate expectations unnecessarily but even he talks up Webb's potential to revitalise his team. "Anyone who saw him in the Tri-Nations saw he was probably the best player in the tournament," he says. "He's a great support player and good in defence. We're excited about him."
After their 18-10 defeat by St Helens in last week's only game, Huddersfield have an equally difficult job at Bradford. Chris Thorman is available despite being concussed in the tackle that earned Saints' Jon Wilkin a two-match suspension.
The Catalan Dragons, who came last in their first season of Super League, are at Hull and will be without Stacey Jones for the first eight weeks of the season following knee surgery. Casey McGuire will deputise at scrum-half, and is one of a series of players making their debuts for the French club.Reuse content