St Helens-based Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash has unveiled 12 new signings as part of his plan to make the newly-named Red Devils the “biggest rugby club in the world”.
England internationals Rangi Chase and Gareth Hock led the way, both on four-year deals, as the colourful racehorse magnate splashed the cash but he insisted he has not made any illegal approaches during his transfer spree and pledged to comply with salary-cap rules.
Warrington captain Adrian Morley, Wakefield scrum-half Tim Smith, St Helens duo Francis Meli and Tony Puletua, overseas-based trio Jake Mullaney, Junior Sa’u and Steve Rapira, London hooker Tommy Lee and Batley pair Paul Walton and Greg Johnson are the Reds’ other recruits for 2014.
Saints’ long-serving skipper Paul Wellens is another target but he is expected to spurn a big money offer from free-spending Salford to see out his career with the club he has supported since his childhood.
Koukash made the announcements to an enraptured audience of 450 fans and corporate guests as well as the media at the Salford City Stadium, where he mounted a passionate response to allegations brought by Wakefield coach Richard Agar of illegal approaches to Wildcats players.
“It’s rubbish,” he said. “Richard you are totally out of order and, since you have made the allegations formally, you should be big enough to go back to the RFL with the evidence so that our name can be cleared.
“It’s the same message to other clubs - just because you have your own problems, don’t deflect from that by accusing us.
“The days when other so-called big clubs came to our club and took the best talent have gone and gone forever.
“Nobody questioned them but now, because of the exciting things that are going on at the club, other players are expressing an interest in coming here.”
An outspoken critic of the salary cap, Koukash says he will not seek ways to get around the £1.8million wage limit for next year but will push for an increase from 2015.
Koukash, who is reported to have recently made a £1million offer to Wigan for Sam Tomkins, was cheered when he pointed towards Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood in the audience and said: “I haven’t paid any of the (players’) wives and I haven’t any intention of doing so.
“I’ve respected the salary cap this year and I will continue to respect it. However, I will work closely with the RFL and with my colleagues in Super League to try to make them see my point of view.”
Koukash also outlined plans to turn the complex surrounding the two-year-old Salford City Stadium at Barton into a “destination”, with hotel, a casino, water park and sports bars.
“We need to encourage extra income from outside the sport and I plan to turn this site into a true destination with rugby at the centre,” he said.
“My aim is in the next four or five years to transform the Red Devils into the biggest rugby club in the world.”
Salford head coach Brian Noble admits he missed out on a couple of transfer targets and says he is still hoping to add to his 2014 squad, which will contain around 12 of the current players.
“We pretty much got most of the people we identified but hopefully there will be a couple more to come,” he said.
While most of the new signings had been predicted, Parramatta full-back Mullaney, 22, was something of a surprise after Salford had been linked with Warrington’s veteran number one Brett Hodgson.
“He’s played the last 13 games for Parramatta at full-back but he first came to my attention when he played for Wests Tigers a couple of years ago when he was a young bloke,” Noble said.
“He was supposedly the new Brett Hodgson. A lot of people’s tip was that we were taking Brett Hodgson on board. That hasn’t happened and Jake Mullaney became available.
“He’s wants a crack in the Super League and he is keen and eager to show his prowess. I’m pretty confident he’ll be a smash in Super League.”