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Super Eights- The Qualifiers- Preview

Salford’s 11th place finish after the regular 23 round season means a tough 7 match campaign in The Qualifiers. In this preview we will have a look at the opposition the Red Devils will face along with some stats, history and a little bit of nostalgia thrown in.

Leeds, Hull KR, Salford, Widnes, Toronto, London, Toulouse and Halifax are the eight teams involved. The top three after they’ve all played their respective 7 games will be back in Super League next season. 4th place will meet 5th place in the Million pound game. 4th place having home advantage. Leaving 6th 7th and 8th playing Championship rugby in 2019.

It all sounds a bit ruthless and any Salford supporter who was at Craven Park on the 1st October 2016 will remember that match forever.


Hull Kingston Rovers

Head coach Tim Sheens

Rovers have been busy in recruitment recently with Joel Tomkins, Todd Carney, Ben Crooks and Craig Hall all moving to East Hull. There current form in Super League has been good with 5 wins and a draw in there last 9 regular season fixtures.

Players to watch out for will include young half back Chris Atkin, Craig Hall, full back Adam Quinlan and the evergreen Maurice Blair.

In the two meetings this season Salford beat Rovers 36-12 at the AJ Bell Stadium. The meeting at Craven Park a few weeks ago the Robins won convincingly 52-22.

Hull Kingston Rovers major honours include the 1980 Challenge cup.

They’ve also won the top flight league championship on five occasions

1923, 1925, 1978/79, 1983/84 and 1984/85.

Roger Millward holds the Challenge cup aloft in 1980


Leeds Rhinos

Head coach James Lowes

Director of rugby Kevin Sinfield

After being crowned Super League Champions in 2017 with a surprise victory over Castleford in the Grand Final 2018 hasn’t quite gone to plan. Losing Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire left a hole in the half back position and that seems to be the area they have struggled to fill and find any sort of rhythm.

Despite there poor season there are plenty of players to look out for in particular young stars Jack Walker, Ashton Goulding and Liam Sutcliffe. There is also plenty of experience in there squad and I wouldn’t be surprised if the bookmakers had them favourites to come top of the qualifiers table. On the other hand the way 12 man Salford exposed them a few weeks ago shows there are week spots that can be exploited.

Salford’s all round record home and away against Leeds is pretty dreadful. In the qualifiers the match will be played at Headingly. A solitary win for the Red Devils in 2009 is our only success there in the Super League era. Our previous victory there before that came in February 1977. If you want the last victory before that it was 1959! So three wins there in almost 60 years it’s fair to say it’s been quite a grave yard for Salford over the years. Records are always there to be broken though!

Leeds have been one of the most successful clubs of the summer era there honours include Super league Titles in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017.

World Club Champions 2005, 2008, 2012.

Challenge cup winners 1910, 1923, 1932, 1936, 1941, 1942, 1957, 1968, 1977, 1999, 2014 and 2015.

The Rhinos with there first Super League title in 2004


Widnes Vikings

Head coach Francis Cummins

2018 has been a real struggle for the Vikings and there supports. Long serving coach Dennis Betts was replaced by Francis Cummins but even this change hasn’t really seen an upturn in form. With just 3 wins from 23 matches in the regular season Widnes have lost 16 games on the spin. There last league victory came on the 22nd March when they beat Salford.

In the qualifiers the two sides will meet at the AJ Bell Stadium. Salford have had the upper hand in recent times with victories in the last five league meetings. Widnes’s last win at Salford came in a 2014 Challenge cup tie 20-30.

Widnes have secured plenty of major honours in years gone by.

Challenge cup winners on 7 occasions 1930, 1937, 1964, 1975, 1979, 1981 and 1984.

Top flight league champions in 77/78, 87/88 and 88/89.

Widnes were also crowned World Champions in 1989 after a memorable win over Canberra Raiders at Old Trafford.

Much like Salford it’s been a bit of a famine for the past few decades though.

Francis Cummins has strengthened his side ahead of The Qualifiers with the signing of Harrison Hansen from Leigh and Liam Finn from Wakefield.

They also have a good crop of youngsters in there side and it would be foolish to take them lightly.

Eric Hughes at Wembley 1984 after Widnes beat Wigan


Toronto Wolf Pack

Head coach Paul Rowley

After promotion from League one in 2017 Paul Rowley‘ Wolfpack have enjoyed another successful 2018 so far. Topping the Championship table after 23 rounds with just two defeats and a draw. Featherstone Rovers became the first side to beat Toronto on Canadian soil in round 23.

Salford have met Toronto just once. A challenge cup tie in 2017 at the AJ Bell Stadium. It was a bad tempered affair with Salford’s Justin Carney shown the red card in the first half. Ian Watson’s side showed plenty of heart with 12 men to come out 29-22 winners.

The Wolfpack are expected to go well in The qualifiers but the Super League opposition they face will be a big step up from the championship. They boast quite a few ex Salford players in there squad. Gareth O Brien made a high profile move earlier this season. Jake Emmitt, Olsi Krasniqi, Andrew Dixon and Adam Sidlow have all made appearances for the Red Devils.

Players to look out for will include half backs Ryan Brierley and Josh Mcrone. Liam Kay is a very quick winger who can finish well. There pack is also very aggressive. The Wolfpack have been criticised in the past for there near to the knuckle approach but in the grand scheme of things I think this will add to the excitement of the Qualifiers.

Gareth O Brien became part of The Wolfpack in 2018


London Broncos

Head coach Danny Ward.

After a final regular season match at Barrow, The Broncos leap frogged Toulouse in to second place denying Salford supporters a trip to the south of France. Salford will now visit London’s Trailfinders Stadium in The qualifiers.

6-72 London won at Barrow, there the highest scoring team in the Championship with 907 points in there 23 games. Could they be the surprise package? Danny Ward has moulded a very competitive side with plenty of pace in the backs. Any side with Jarrod Sammut is going to be great to watch. The 31 year old Australian has a sensational try scoring ratio for The Broncos and when he’s on form he can be an absolute rugby league genius.

The last time Salford met London was in the Qualifiers of 2016. The Broncos pulled off a surprise 16-19 victory. Since there relegation from Super League at the end of 2014 London have challenged well in the Championship and will be tough to beat especially on there on ground.

London Broncos are yet to win a major Rugby League honour but they were Super League Runners up in 1997 and Challenge Cup runners up at Wembley in 1999. Under there previous name Fulham they won the 2nd Division title in 1982/83 season.

Former London owner Richard Branson transformed the club in the 1990s


Toulouse Olympique

Head coach Sylvain Houles

Toulouse went unbeaten during the League 1 2016 season but lost in the Promotion Final to Rochdale Hornets. They entered the play-offs as a result and were successful, beating Barrow Raiders to win promotion to the Championship. Another solid season in 2017 saw them lift the Championship shield. 2018 has again been successful, London Broncos just pipping them on the final day of the regular season to gain 2nd place leaving the Frenchmen in 3rd on points difference.

They’ve got some exciting players in there squad including Jonathan Ford and William Barthau. There’s plenty of experience in there pack as well with Con Mika, Sam Rapira and Eddy Pettybourne.

Salford’s last meeting with Toulouse came at The Willows in 2003. A Challenge cup tie which Salford won 26-10.

What can we expect from the French side in the Qualifiers? There a very good home side so from a Salford point of view I am sure Ian Watson will be pleased to have them as a home game. After finishing third Toulouse will now face the prospect of four away games.

Toulouse claimed the Championship Shield in 2017


Halifax

Head coach Richard Marshall

Halifax have had another really consistent season in the championship. Young coach Richard Marshall has worked wonders on a low budget and boasts some really exciting young talent in his side. Former Halifax and Salford legend Colin Dixon’s grandson Chester Butler is making a real name for himself and will definitely be a player to watch. The vastly experienced Scott Murrell teams up in the halves with Ben Johnston and Fax are not short of pace with speedsters Kieran Moss, Will Sharp and Ben Heaton. Former Salford player Steve Tryer has become a real points machine in West Yorkshire and his now in his 6th season at Halifax.

Salford last met Halifax in a competitive fixture back in 2015 in the qualifiers. The Red Devils won away in a highly entertaining match 28-50. Niall Evalds grabbed a hat trick. Salford beat Halifax home and away in the 2008 Championship season.

Halifax were relegated from Rugby League’s top flight at the end of the 2003 season. The club have a long and proud history leaving there historical home at Thrum Hall at the end of 1997. Since then they have shared The Shay with football team Halifax Town.

The clubs major honours are Challenge cup winners 1903, 1904, 1931, 1939 and 1987. There 1939 success saw a 20-3 victory over Salford at Wembley.

Halifax’s last League title came in 1986.

Going in to the qualifiers Fax have nothing to lose being the lowest ranked side.

As well as welcoming Salford to the Shay they will also meet Leeds in a big Yorkshire derby clash.

Writing this as a Salford supporter I do wish Halifax all the best in the qualifiers. Not only for the Colin Dixon connection but they a traditional club in a real heart land of our sport.

Halifax with the 1987 Challenge Cup after a thrilling 19-18 win over Saints

With so much riding on these seven matches it promises to be a very exciting few months watching all the sides involved. Safe travels and enjoy the games.

Paul Whiteside.

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