LOSING as trusted and experienced an ally as Tim Sheens ahead of arguably the biggest game in the club’s history is hardly ideal for Salford Red Devils head coach Ian Watson.
However, he maintains “not a lot” has changed despite being without the services of their Hull KR-bound director of rugby.
Former Australia chief Sheens stood down last weekend given Salford visit Rovers – whom he joins for 2017 – in the ‘Million Pound Game’ tomorrow where the losing side will be relegated from Super League.
Given the obvious conflict of interests, it means Watson, the rookie 39-year-old, has had to go it alone this week in the build-up to such a monumental contest.
However, the former Halifax scrum-half insisted it will not have too much of an impact on his side given Sheens had little to do with actual coaching – and he can now almost second-guess what the veteran’s input may have been, having worked with him for the last 14 months.
“I got a good feel off him from working with him and knowing which paths he’d go down,” explained Watson about the 65-year-old Sheens, who expressed a desire to return to day-to-day coaching at Rovers.
“I’d sit in the office talking to him about rugby league and the next thing six hours had passed; the knowledge you soak up off him was huge.
“Tim has been huge in terms of developing me as a coach. You can bounce ideas off him because you can’t beat experience. He would never push me to change the team but he’d sometimes throw you a curveball to see how you reacted, so he challenged me.
“I’m quite stubborn so I never really changed too much and, sometimes when I did, it didn’t always work.
“But he’d make you think about things like if someone got injured, who’d go in his place.
“On the training field he just watched on but he’d come over and tip us up on something sometimes. It was never a real hands-on coaching role – that was me and Gleese (Martin Gleeson) – it was helping out and putting input in, so in that aspect not a lot has changed.”
Watson admitted he was surprised the former New South Wales State of Origin coach, who won three Grand Finals with Canberra Raiders and another at Wests Tigers, wanted to get back into coaching.
“Here, he was transforming the club in the way it worked behind the scenes and something we were keen to keep going because things were going in the right direction,” he said.
“But Tim has decided to go in another way, and that’s up to him. He’s always been coming out onto the field and having that enthusiasm about him, but he was really happy in his role.
“He never said he wasn’t happy, it’s just something that he’s decided.”
Sheens agreed to step aside this week as Salford prepare for the game to save their Super League status although, at Tuesday’s press conference in east Hull, Watson revealed: “He’s just phoned me – and asked me to pick something up from Hull KR’s office!”
Salford, of course, would never have even been in the Qualifiers if not for the six points deducted in April or breaching salary cap rules in 2014.
They have subsequently lost against Championship sides Leigh Centurions and London Broncos in the Middle Eights to finish fifth and are in real jeopardy.
However, if they can produce one last win, it will be Watson’s former colleague Sheens and Hull KR consigned to the Championship.
“We’ve not spoken about defeat,” said Watson, who has criticised the RFL for “glamming up” a “serious” game where livelihoods are at stake.
“We’re fully focussed on the game and making sure we do our job properly. Whatever happens on the back of the result, happens but, with the group we’ve got we’re confident we can get the job done.”