When they walked out onto the Old Trafford pitch on Wednesday for their pre-Grand Final visit, the Salford Red Devils squad got an idea of what the atmosphere will be like on the big day.
The club arranged for crowd noise to be piped over the PA as the players made their way out of the tunnel at the Stretford End, mimicking the walk they will make with their St Helens counterparts for real just before 6pm on Saturday night.
Of course, the likes of Gil Dudson, Lee Mossop, Mark Flanagan and Josh Jones know from experiences with their previous clubs what it is like to walk out for a showpiece at Manchester United’s home. So to do Red Devils head coach Ian Watson and chief executive Ian Blease.
馃幁 REHEARSAL TIME!馃彑锔?We're expecting quite a reception for the team, when they walk out at Old Trafford on Saturday!馃挭#TogetherStronger馃師锔?Ticket Office馃憠https://t.co/4xqoWCf7Qm馃師锔?Super League馃憠https://t.co/M7oaDxhOp1 pic.twitter.com/NTqsh8Zi63
— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) October 9, 2019
The pair were both playing last time Salford were involved in an Old Trafford final – Watson as a wily half-back and Blease as an industrious forward as they overcame Keighley Cougars 19-6 in the 1996 Divisional Premiership decider, with the latter having played in the 27-20 win against Halifax in the same competition five years earlier as well.
“It was different – I wouldn’t survive in the modern game,” joked Blease, looking back on those matches. “But when you walk out on that pitch, it’s an amazing feeling.
“The best way to describe it is it’s like a coliseum. You can’t hear people on the pitch shouting moves and things because of the crowd.
“But Watto has told them already, concentrate on your first efforts, get your head in the right place and you’ll have a good game.
“You’ve just got to work together as a team, and the guys have done that all year, played some tremendous rugby and there’s no reason they can’t do that on Saturday.”
Blease has been back at the club he made 252 appearances for between 1985 and 1997 for nearly three years, appointed as chief executive by former owner Marwan Koukash.
Even prior to his full-time return, the 54-year-old was still lending a helping hand to Salford and it was him who recommended Watson, then player-coach at Swinton Lions, to Koukash when the club were searching for a new assistant coach in 2014.
Now the man in charge, Watson has won plenty of plaudits for his role in guiding the Red Devils from battling against relegation last year to within 80 minutes of lifting the Super League title for the first time and Blease is not surprised to see his former team-mate spearheading an incredible season.
“He’s a genius at looking at mannerisms and personality,” Blease said.
“He’s getting his just rewards and this won’t just end now, this is what we want to do for the next few years – depending on how long we both stay there.
“It’s a happy time to be around the club, it’s a pleasure to work for the club and he deserves all of the accolades he gets.”
Given Salford’s rise in 2019, it is perhaps easy to forget the struggles the club have endured in recent years, not to mention adapting from the big-spending years under Koukash to operating on a restricted budget following a change of ownership.