Salford’s toughest test so far awaits on Thursday night with the visit of one of Super League’s most successful sides St. Helens. Over the last 25 years or so Saints have been the team to watch. Playing a thrilling brand of exciting, fast and clinical Rugby League. The phrase “never write off the Saints” is one frequently said by commentators from around the country due to there ability to snatch victories from seemingly impossible situations. Current head coach Justin Holbrook has stamped his on mark on the club and heading into 2019 St. Helens started the season as favourites to reach the Grand Final.
An opening round victory over bitter rivals Wigan was followed by a hard fought win away at Wakefield. Last weekend Saints beat Leeds 27-22.
Former Salford star Theo Fages has become a real potent figure in the starting 13. Last season’s half back sensation Danny Richardson seems to have fallen down the pecking order recently after being sent on duel registration duty to Championship side Leigh.
Not only have Saints got a frighteningly quick set of backs there forward pack is nothing short of ferocious. The giant Alex Walmsley is very hard to stop and youngster Luke Thompson is one of the most feared props in the top flight as he proved on international duty recently.
Saints pack enforcer Alex Walmsley grabbed two tries last week.
Super League home record
St. Helens 15
1997 Salford 39 St. Helens 26
1998 Salford 14 St. Helens 18
1999 Salford 10 St. Helens 23
2000 Salford 4 St. Helens 58
2001 Salford 16 St. Helens 56
2002 Salford 24 St. Helens 28
2004 Salford 30 St. Helens 20
2005 Salford 22 St. Helens 33
2006 Salford 10 St. Helens 12
2007 Salford 20 St. Helens 32
2009 Salford 20 St. Helens 10
2010 Salford 42 St. Helens 34
2011 Salford 22 St. Helens 56
2012 Salford 10 St. Helens 32
2013 Salford 10 St. Helens 52
2014 Salford 0 St. Helens 38
2015 Salford 6 St. Helens 52
2016 Salford 44 St. Helens 10
2017 Salford 22 St. Helens 14
2017 Salford 4 St. Helens 30 (Super 8s)
2018 Salford 10 St. Helens 60
They played for both
Over the years there has been so much player movement between the two clubs. The town of St Helens is a real hot bed of the game with some fantastic amateur set ups including Thatto Heath, Blackbrook and Clock Face. In the Super League era Matty Smith, Jordan Turner, Lama Tasi, Tommy Lee and Theo Fages have all moved to Saints from Salford. Willie Talu, Tony Puletua, Francis Meli, Mark Edmondson, Matty Ashurst, Andrew Dixon, Danny Arnold, Alan Hunte, Josh Jones, Bobbie Goulding, Lee Gaskell ,Paul Forber, Mark Lee, Jake Emmitt and Anthony Stewart to name a few in recent years to represent both sides.
Paul Groves, Paul Brownbill, John Mantle, Ken Gwilliam, George Nicholls and Darren Bloor played for both clubs in the pre super League era. The list could certainly go on as there are many more. Alex Murphy and Shaun McRae have coached both sides.
George Nicholls pack star for both clubs.
A match to remember 10th June 2005
Salford 22 St. Helens 33.
After promotion back to the top flight at the end of the 2003 season Karl Harrison’s Salford side had made good progress with a creditable 9th place finish in 2004. The side was strengthened for 2005 with a crop of talented youngsters knocking on the door for first team opportunities.
St. Helens were on the cusp of some serious success and would go on to top the table for the next four seasons. Jamie Lyon was the jewel in the crown, the miraculous Australian putting in some memorable performances.
Salford gave a fantastic account of themselves pushing the men from Knowsley Road all the way. A young half back named Tim Hartley thrilled the Willows faithful with a man of the match display. He scored two breathtaking tries in his first start at stand off and showed good organisational skills
Willows favourite Sean Rutgerson on the burst in 2005.
Salford led 18-12 at the break after an end to end first half of frantic action.
The City Reds had extended there lead to 22-12 with 23 minutes remaining before come back kings St. Helens roared back.
Cliff Beverley had made way for Hartley in the halves taking his place in the centres. Beverley had the task of keeping Lyon quiet. In the end Lyon was the difference between the two sides. His exquisite hat-trick broke Salford hearts and the score line seemed a little harsh on a side that had put so much in to the match. Salford’s other tries came from Chris Charles and Stuart Littler, with Charles converting three goals. Lyon’s hat trick was complimented by tries from Sean Long, Paul Wellens and John Wilkin.
The teams that night were;
SALFORD: Hodgson; Stewart, Littler, Beverley, Langi; Hartley, Robinson; Rutgerson, Alker, Baldwin, McAvoy, Shipway, Charles. Subs used: Haggerty, Jonkers, Clough, Stringer. Tries: Hartley (2), Littler, Charles. Goals: Charles (3).
ST HELENS: Wellens; Hardman, Lyon, Talau, Gardner; Hooper, Long; P Anderson, Cunningham, Mason, Gilmour, Wilkin, V Anderson. Subs used: Edmondson, Roby, Graham, Fa’asavalu. Tries: Lyon (3), Wilkin, Wellens, Long. Goals: Long (4). Drop goal: Long.
Ref: Ian Smith.
Looking ahead to Thursday there is no doubt St. Helens will start as favourites. Ian Watson’s Salford side will have to be at there best in defence to have any chance of taking the two points. It’s certainly not an impossible task as some pundits are predicting. Watson will leave not stone unturned as he prepares meticulously in the build up. Edge defence will be crucial, one concern from saturday’s game at Hull kr was the amount of errors in particular knock ons coming out of our own half. Salford will need to respect possession with a high completion rate.
Jackson Hastings and Robert Lui will want to impress and if they click they can cause any team problems.
Three wins from there first four games has given Salford a good solid start to the season. The Red Devil’s will need to be on there guard especially after the wake up call they got from Leeds a few weeks ago. There are no hiding places in The Super League with the month of March looking extremely tough with three away fixtures and a home game against 2018 Champions Wigan.
Ed Chamberlain is back to full fitness and could be back in contention for Salford. Saints could be without Kevin Naiqama who got a head knock last week in the early stages of there match against Leeds. The match will be broadcast live on television giving Salford the chance to show the rest of the Super League how far this squad of players have come. Many pundits have dismissed Salford’s chances in 2019 and some been a little disrespectful to Ian Watson and his team. It’s a big if but if Salford can topple St. Helens on Thursday night people may just sit up and take notice. The action gets under way at 7:45pm.
Enjoy the match everyone.
Ps ( the cover photo is from the 1976 premiership final at station road) the late Geoff Pimblett of St. Helens with the ball chased by Salford’s Steve Nash.