Betfred Super League: Wigan Warriors v Salford Red Devils
Venue: DW Stadium Date: Friday, 20 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Manchester and follow live text and radio commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

Last September, Salford Red Devils finished the regular Super League season second from bottom and eventually stayed up after another arduous battle through the Qualifiers.

Twelve months and a format change later, Ian Watson’s side are a team invigorated, having finished in the Super League top three for the first time.

That finish set up a play-off game against Wigan Warriors and a pathway to the Grand Final just under five miles away at . But what spurred on a remarkable turnaround?

BBC Sport spoke to the people behind a season to remember to find out.

Keeping each other accountable

Ian Watson has been head coach of Salford Red Devils since 2015

At the start of the season some had considered Salford candidates for another relegation battle but a fine season, including a strong finish, saw them prove their doubters wrong.

The Red Devils won their final eight league games, with their spot in the play-offs confirmed after their victory against Leeds on 6 September, while their narrow golden-point win against Hull KR gifted them third place and set up Friday’s tie at the DW Stadium.

“Our [success] has always been from how hard we work as a group and that’s what we want to live by. We work hard for each other and we don’t let each other down,” Watson told BBC Sport.

“We’re accountable to each other and we’ve focussed on that every single week and wherever that takes us, we’ll accept that as long as we’re putting in 100% effort.

“We spoke about trying to finish fifth and being in that play-off arena so we could give ourselves an opportunity. We’ve done better than that and we’ve put ourselves in with a real shot.”

Finding the belief to compete

With a successful campaign and the unchartered territory of the play-offs approaching, Watson points to his side’s narrow defeat by St Helens in May as the turning point in their season.

Having been 16-0 down inside 12 minutes at Saints, Salford stunned them to lead 30-16 before the hosts fought back to win 32-30.

“The backroom staff knew we had a good group of players. They needed to have a bit more belief,” he continued.

“We ended losing the game in the last 10 minutes but it showed us in that 70-minute period we could compete with one of the best teams who were running away with it at the time.

“Nobody had put 30 points on them at that time. It showed we’ve got the ability to attack teams and score points but what we needed to do was refine our defence and make sure we were stiffer defensively.”

Gaining recognition

Jackson Hastings joined Salford Red Devils in July 2018 soon after his release by NRL side Manly Sea Eagles

Friday’s fixture means there will be an intriguing meeting for Salford’s n star Jackson Hastings, with the side he is set to join at the end of the season, and Wigan’s Dan Sarginson, who is moving the other way.

Hastings has been Salford’s talisman this season, with the half-back’s form helping him seal a Super League Dream Team place while he is also one of five nominees for this year’s Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.

“It’s just the team spirit and chemistry we have and the way we play footy, I think we’re one of those teams that likes to throw the ball around and move teams around and try and score some nice tries,” Hastings told BBC Sport.

“We also now have grittiness and desire and willingness to work with our teammates that we didn’t have at the start of the year.

“It’s helped us go on an eight-game winning streak at the backend of the year so we’ve got players who have been there and done it and toiled their whole careers and are starting to get some recognition.”

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