“We’re a bunch of misfits, I’ve said it before. We’ve got pretty much 30 blokes who have been discarded and told they weren’t good enough.”
Those were the words of star half-back Jackson Hastings after Salford Red Devils upset the odds once more, beating Wigan Warriors 28-4 to reach Super League’s Grand Final for the first time.
Salford have flirted with relegation for several seasons and were among the favourites for the drop in 2019, but they will be crowned champions if they win against St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday, 12 October.
“We rallied together and had one goal in mind at the start of the year,” the Australia-born half-back told BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
“We wrote on a whiteboard that we wanted to win something, whether that be the Challenge Cup or go to Old Trafford. We’ve got one of the two.”
Salford’s improbable journey to the Grand Final has included several instances of financial difficulty and a dramatic golden-point drop-goal in the 2016 Million Pound Game that saved them from relegation.
“I know how much this means for the people of Salford,” added 23-year-old Hastings, one of the contenders for this season’s Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.
“Everyone that’s had a little bit to do with this club that’s struggled for so long finally gets a crack at the big stage and, regardless of whatever happens, I’m so proud to be one of the 17 blokes that will hopefully get the nod to go out there and try to do the unthinkable.
“We’re under no illusions of how tough the task is – it’s almost the impossible, but that’s the beauty of sport. You get the chance to go out and do stuff like this.”
‘My heart is with Salford’
St Helens finished 16 points clear of second-placed Wigan at the end of the regular season and will be strong favourites to win the Grand Final, against a Salford team that has proven to be much greater than the sum of its parts.
Gil Dudson, who scored Salford’s opening try at Wigan, was relegated from Super League with Widnes in 2018, while fellow prop Lee Mossop has recovered from numerous shoulder operations to captain the Red Devils to Old Trafford.
And Hastings, himself, has had to overcome adversity to reach the pinnacle of his rugby league career so far.
He left NRL club Manly last year following reports of a bust-up with a team-mate and says he wanted to repay the faith shown in him by Salford – even though he has already agreed a move to Wigan for the 2020 season.
Hastings continued: “I’ve said it the whole year, even when I signed for Wigan – my priority is Salford and my heart is at Salford.
“Everything they’ve given me, I wanted to repay them. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I could be a part of taking them to Old Trafford. I’m lost for words that we get to experience that.
“I’m just a kid from Wollongong who dreamed of playing in an NRL Grand Final, made some mistakes and almost cost myself my career. This club picked me up off the ground and we get to go and do it together.”
Salford success ‘breathes life into competition’
Salford will become just the eighth team to appear in a Super League Grand Final since that became the title decider for the competition in 1998.
Head coach Ian Watson believes it “gives hope” to the lower-level clubs in the top flight that they can achieve similar feats and challenge the elite in future.
“I think it breathes life into the competition and gives everybody a boost outside the normal top four or five,” said Watson.
“If you think about how many teams have been to or won a Grand Final, you can count them on one hand.
“For a club like Salford to go against the odds and get there, it gives people a hope that if you get good people in and you get a group that’ll commit and buy into the things you want them to do, you can have success on the back of it.”