Salford Red Devils: Dr Marwan Koukash vision becoming a reality

 

Within an hour of Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash unveiling Rangi Chase as one of 12 new signings for next season, a horse he named after the England international was running at Haydock Park.

Rugby league is desperate for characters and they do not come much bigger than Koukash, a Palestinian refugee turned multi-millionaire.

Salford's new signings

Rangi Chase

Rangi Chase: Stand-off, Castleford Tigers

Gareth Hock: Second-row, Wigan Warriors

Greg Johnson: Wing, Batley Bulldogs

Tommy Lee: Hooker, London Broncos

Francis Meli: Wing, St Helens

Adrian Morley: Prop, Warrington Wolves

Jake Mullaney: Full-back, Parramatta Eels

Tony Puletua: Second-row, St Helens

Steve Rapira: Forward, New Zealand Warriors

Junior Sa'u: Centre, Melbourne Storm

Tim Smith: Stand-off/scrum-half, Wakefield

Jason Walton: Centre/second-row, Batley

He has been creating headlines since completing his takeover of the ailing Reds in January - whether it be sacking head coach Phil Veivers just five matches into the season, calling for Super League's salary cap to be significantly raised or changing his club's identity.

Having been a successful racehorse owner for several years, he is having a positive impact on another sport and is well on the way to making the Red Devils - as they will now be known - a major force in Super League.

This, just eight months after the very existence of the club was in doubt.

Watch out. The 'Devil-ution' is here.

I was among several hundred people at a media conference on Thursday to be left mesmerised as charismatic Koukash took the microphone to announce a long list of new signings and deliver his mission statement.

"The days in which big clubs came to our club and took the best talent have gone forever," he declared, referring to the sales of top stars Matty Smith, Stefan Ratchford and Richie Myler in recent seasons.

Now Salford are the hunters, not the hunted.

Current England internationals Chase and Gareth Hock, both of whom are likely to be members of Steve McNamara's World Cup squad when it is announced next month, are among the new recruits.

Established Super League veterans such as Warrington prop Adrian Morley, plus forward Tony Puletua and winger Francis Meli of St Helens have also agreed moves, as have talented youngsters like hooker Tommy Lee from London Broncos and full-back Jake Mullaney of Parramatta Eels.

Chase 'humbled' by horse accolade

There has been controversy along the way - Tim Smith's arrival from financially troubled Wakefield led Wildcats coach Richard Agar to accuse the Reds of making illegal approaches for some of his players.

Koukash, in typical fashion, dismissed the claims as "rubbish".

Former Great Britain coach Brian Noble, who was appointed as Veivers' replacement in April, said: "People don't recognise how difficult it is to sign a player, certainly if you're a bottom club as we have been in the past.

"Just to get one name down on a piece of paper is very difficult, so to end up getting 12 of the quality we have done is an absolute 'wow' for the club. Next year is so full of excitement and I can't wait."

Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, Koukash added: "This is only the start. Within three or four years, we intend to build the biggest club in the land.

"We need to be attracting crowds of 7,000-9,000 to send the message out there that we are a big club. A big club doesn't just come from a competitive team. You need the crowds behind you, the commercial support and so on. I expect the people of Salford, once they hear the news of the new signings, to join the revolution."

Koukash's long-term plan includes extensive development of the area surrounding their Salford City Stadium home, but the on-field product remains the priority for now.

Devils destined for silverware

"People have doubted Dr Marwan Koukash and his ability to deliver, but I think he's sent out a massive message with this.

"What can be negative in signing 12 players and putting a team together with a realistic chance of competing? Maybe it's a fear factor from other clubs. Other people may have a different view and they're entitled to that, but this type of person will advance the media coverage of rugby league and that can only be a good thing.

"It's up to the people of Salford and sports fans in Greater Manchester to get behind the club. Salford will be a force and it's only a matter of time before they win silverware. I hope they get the support this type of investment deserves."

Of the new additions, that of Chase is the most eye-catching, and perhaps the one that signifies Salford's intent for success more than any other.

At the age of 27, he is in the prime of his career. Bursting with creativity, he can be unplayable at times. Voted Man of Steel in 2011, his extraordinary talent is obvious to any player or observer.

Chase's future at Castleford had been questioned for several months, many wondering when he would leave one of Super League's perennial strugglers for a club challenging for honours.

His decision to join Salford, who it should be stated could still finish bottom of Super League in 2013, may be viewed by some as a surprising one. However, enticed by the ambition of their effervescent owner, Chase is confident of a bright future with the newly relaunched Red Devils.

"I'm very glad it's out [news of the move] because there's been a lot of speculation and there have been times where I knew what was happening but it was out of my hands to say," said the New Zealand-born stand-off.

"We have a lot of potential because of the new signings, but we have to make it work and make it click. It's up to us as a team and a coaching staff to get the best out of us. We're going to expect to do well because we're going to be challenging ourselves."

After completing their media commitments, Chase and Koukash watched on a big screen as Rangi Chase - the horse - finished third at Haydock.

Not bad for a first outing, but you get the feeling Koukash's relentless pursuit of rugby league domination will not cease until Salford Red Devils are in the winner's enclosure on a regular basis.