No team in Super League this season will look more different than Salford Red Devils – but that suits coach Brian Noble just fine.
The former Bulls boss, who remains the competition’s most successful coach after his glorious spell at Odsal, has signed an incredible 16 new players during the off-season.
Several eye-catching imports have arrived but the bulk of Noble’s new recruits are seasoned Super League performers such as Adrian Morley, Tony Puletua, Francis Meli, Harrison Hansen, Gareth Hock and Rangi Chase.
Salford finished bottom last season but Dr Marwan Koukash, the club’s controversial multi-millionaire owner, is targeting a tilt at Super League glory this year.
Noble, who guided Bradford to five successive Grand Finals, winning three of them, accepts there is pressure to deliver.
He said: “All the clubs are under pressure this year with relegation coming back but expectations at Salford are very high, not just from Marwan but people around the game.
“With that comes the scrutiny, so we’ll be under pressure from day one, but we’ve got our own high expectations as well.
“We’ve got 16 new players in and 16 players have left, so it certainly looks different.
“We’ll keep some of the good things that were there last year but add our own bit of winning DNA with people like Adrian Morley and Martin Gleeson.
“Hopefully we’ll hit the ground running but I’m confident we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Koukash caused a storm with his attack on the RFL this week over the new television deal and the reappointment of Steve McNamara as England coach on a part-time basis.
But Noble is not about to start complaining about his boss – not when he has been backed in such lavish fashion.
He said: “Marwan’s brilliant – you couldn’t wish for a better owner. He’s demanding in the information that he requires but he’s also extremely supportive and if we decide to do something then we generally do it.
“We try and think what we can do and will do rather than what we shouldn’t do or might do.
“His ambition is there for all to see and he’s put his money where his mouth is – he’s backed everything we’ve tried to do.
“He wants the game to be bigger, he wants the players to earn more money and he wants the superstars of either code of rugby to be playing in Super League. I wish we had another ten people like him.”
Noble last month took his squad on a pre-season training camp in South Africa at the High Performance Centre at Ingwenyama near Pretoria.
“We had a world-class psychologist and a world-class coach out there with us,” he explained.
“We spent a bit of time and effort in connecting the players, which can only stand us in good stead.
“Some of the things were different and the players haven’t done this kind of thing before. I think to a man they thought it was very worthwhile, so we are hoping that proves on the field as well. You can talk all you want but you’ve got to put a few wins together.
“There are a few question marks over the birth certificates of certain players but there is no question over their motivation, attitude and willingness to pay the price to do well.
“I’m thrilled with the way our leaders have come through this pre-season and I think we’ll have a few surprises as well.”
As someone who achieved so much as a player and coach with his home-town club, Noble will always bleed red, amber and back.
He said: “Of course I want to see Bradford do well. The signs are good for Francis Cummins – they seem to have gelled well and got a good unit together. If they can stay healthy then I think they will be all right.
“There is a question mark over whether they might get some points deducted on the administration and if that happens then let’s hope it’s not too many.
“But as a proud Bradfordian, I always want Bradford do very well – except when they play Salford.”