Goulding's return lifts black mood at Reds

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The Independent Online

In two matches over Easter, Bobbie Goulding could have transformed Salford's season. The previous week Goulding had been left on the bench – for reasons his coach, Steve McCormack, does not wish to elaborate upon, but which were not confined to issues of fitness – as the Reds reached an early-season nadir with defeat at Wakefield.

The club's supporters were resigned to the inevitability of last place and relegation from Super League. And if Goulding, now the wrong side of 30, could not force his way into that side, the game was surely up for him as well.

But, with Goulding restored at scrum-half, Salford beat Warrington on Good Friday and Halifax on Easter Monday – a sign that one of the game's most volatile characters still has something to offer.

"Bobbie, on his day, is still brilliant," says McCormack. "In both games, his influence was superb. But any half-back needs a good pack in front of him – and that was the first time our pack has really clicked."

For McCormack, the transformation could have come just in time. The youngest coach in Super League, Salford have invested long-term hopes in him, but the knives were out for him after three increasingly depressing defeats at the start of the season.

The rumour mill even put a name to his successor – Leigh's Paul Terzis – but McCormack succeeded in shutting out all the speculation. "Just getting that first win helped a lot, but the pressure is still on. It's the nature of the game. Whenever you're not winning matches, there's someone around the corner waiting to take your job off you," he says.

Salford look to complete an unlikely hat-trick at The Willows this afternoon, when Castleford are the visitors. The way the fixtures have worked out, Warrington and Halifax played the Reds after defeats by Leeds – and Cas lost to them on Tuesday as well.

Goulding will be without his recent half-back partner, as Francis Maloney nurses a facial injury, but Salford could have Steve Blakeley ready to play his first match of the season. Further down the line, other long-term absentees such as Gary Broadbent and Andy Coley are on their way back, giving McCormack the competition for places he believes is essential if Salford are to build on the foundations they have laid.

He has also again shown that he is prepared to leave a big-name player out of his team. The Australian Test winger Michael Hancock was left out of Salford's two recent victories and faces a struggle to get back into a winningline-up.