Ian Watson grew up in Salford, pulled on the club’s shirt and now takes the Red Devils to Old Trafford for a chance to make history.
Not since the glory days of the 1970s, when star players like Keith Fielding and David Watkins made the Willows a hot Friday-night ticket, have Salford finished champions of rugby league’s elite.
But Watson has fashioned a side that plays to its considerable strengths, has discovered an inner belief and has overcome the fact that it will be broken up come full-time tonight.
As a result, Watson himself has emerged as one of the country’s most highly-rated coaches.
This autumn he will assist Wayne Bennett for Great Britain. He was extensively discussed by St Helens when they sought to replace the out-going Justin Holbrook,and he is held in high esteem by the sport’s top players.
But Watson himself remains unassuming and unchanged from the part-time player that steered several different clubs around the field from scrum-half.
He said: “I’m probably favourite to be the first coach out every year.
“I don’t have social media and that’s because I learned as a player that one week you’re great, the next you’re a load of rubbish.I know if I’m doing a good job.
“I’m from Winton, halfway between the Willows and the AJ Bell. My wife used to live around corner from the Willows and I’d stay there – I had the smallest expenses in the club’s history.
“It’s been a great journey from where we were to now. But being here isn’t about messing about, taking pictures and looking at the stadium. We are here to win, to do a job.”
The way Watson has held his team together as several announced their departures for higher profile clubs midway through the season must rank among his best achievements.
Star man Jackson Hastings will join Wigan along with Jake Bibby, Josh Jones is heading for Hull FC, George Griffin for Castleford and Logan Tomkins will also leave.
Rob Lui went to Leeds in June in an inspired swap for Tui Lolohea and a number of other fringe players will also head for pastures new.
But Watson said: “It’s almost like when you play together as school kids – that sort of mentality. Some go on to pro, others the amateur game, some fall out of love with the game, but you know it breaks up.
“We’ve got that same break up here because we don’t have big money to keep them all. If we had kept them and built, it would be even better next year but we’re just not in that position to do it.
“We don’t have a benefactor – we have to be really careful what we spend. But now we’re in a Grand Final and if you asked the boys who are leaving if they’d have stayed, most would say yes.
“Jackson spoke to me when the Wigan thing came out and was in tears in the room. The fact is he didn’t really want to go because of all we’d done for him.
“If I could have told him then he’d play in a Grand Final at the end of the year, I think he’d have said ‘mate I ain’t going anywhere.’
“It’s life. Things like that happen, we have to roll with it and move on rather than have anything negative.
“Our budget is the lowest, 100 per cent. We don’t have marquee players, we can’t spend huge money, there is no dispensation for kids coming through the Academy because we don’t have one.
“We’re miles behind financially but in spirit and endeavour we’re well up there.”
And that might yet take them to Old Trafford glory.