As I write this preview I am still coming to terms with the fact that Salford have made the Grand Final. I think I’ve been in a state of shock for the last few days as it’s not quite sunk in. I’ve always hoped one day we would reach Wembley and Old Trafford but I never thought for one minute it would be this season.
This is no fluke though, Ian Watson, his staff and players have been magnificent this season. Form was a bit on the patchy side in the early stages and particularly around the Magic Weekend. The last two months however have been the most enjoyable in my years watching our beloved club. Watto continues to defy the odds, his character and humbleness has caught they eye of the sport of Rugby League. Salford Red Devils are making friends and followers throughout the game and it’s a joy to see. The amount of good luck messages from other clubs has been quite heart warming and sometimes overwhelming. 2019 has been a fantastic story so far but it’s been far from plain sailing but Watto continues to take everything in his stride.
Last Friday’s victory at Wigan was definitely a sweet one after being on the wrong end of defeats in that particular fixture for decades. A few weeks ago my dad told me it was 51 years since his first match away to Wigan at Central Park in 1968. Driving home on Friday night he whispered to me that what he had just witnessed could possibly be the best win he’s seen. Salford didn’t just beat Wigan they controlled the match from minute one to eighty. The Warriors are the reigning champions, a powerhouse club in the sport. The Red Devils completely dismantled them. Roared on by a tremendous following of supporters, the atmosphere was electric. It was a night I’ll never forget.
Our club now deserves to be on the big stage at Old Trafford showing the world what we are all about. It’s a huge stage, a monumental night that could and I believe will change the club forever.
It’s been fascinating seeing the club in every aspect of the media. Newspaper coverage, television, radio and social media has been absolutely buzzing with this real feel good story.
Who would of thought on that bitterly cold night in Huddersfield on the first day of February that eight months later the season would climax at The Theatre of Dreams!
Salford and St. Helens Championship wins.
Salford 6 Championships.
1913/14 Championship winners
1932/33 Championship winners
1936/37 Championship winners
1938/39 Championship winners
1973/74 First Division Champions
1975/76 First Division Champions
Salford’s Championship winning team of 1973/74.
St. Helens 13 Championships.
1931/32 Championship winners
1952/53 Championship winners
1958/59 Championship winners
1965/66 Championship winners
1969/70 Championship winners
1970/71 Championship winners
1974/75 First Division Champions
1996 Super League Champions
1999 Super League Champions
2000 Super League Champions
2002 Super League Champions
2006 Super League Champions
2014 Super League Champions
St Helens lifted the very first Super League title in 1996.
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.
Eric Prescott, 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.
A match to remember, Premiership final, Saturday 22nd May 1976
St. Helens 15 Salford 2. Station Road Swinton.
A gloriously hot sunny afternoon at Swinton’s Station Road ground saw the two best sides of 1976 go head to head in the Premiership Final.
Salford had been crowned League Champions after finishing a point above second place Featherstone Rovers after a frantic finish to the season.
St. Helens had beaten Widnes at Wembley in The Challenge Cup final by 20-5 just a few weeks earlier. Both sides were in good form, Salford had beaten Hull Kingston Rovers and Wakefield, while St. Helens had knocked Wigan and Leeds out in the previous rounds respectively.
St. Helens full back Geoff Pimblett on the burst.
It was a real bruising encounter with both sides defending stoutly through the first half. Salford’s David Watkins drop goal the only point of the first half.
Watkins dropped another goal in the second half to put Salford into a 0-2 lead.
Saints finished the game strongly with tries from Eric Chisnall and Tony Karalius. Wembley hero Peter Glynn who had come on as a substitute in the Challenge Cup final to score two tries grabbed an important try in this match to dash Salford’s hopes. Full back Geoff Pimblett kicked three goals and St. Helens won the Premiership Trophy 15-2.
Colin Dixon halts Saints prop Mel James.
Saints forward George Nicholls claimed the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match in front of a packed crowd of 18,082.
The teams that day;
Salford, David Watkins, Keith Fielding, Maurice Richards, Chris Hesketh, Gordon Graham, John Butler, Steve Nash, Mike Coulman, Dean Raistrick, Billy Sheffield, John Knighton, Colin Dixon, Eric Prescott. Sub, Sammy Turnbull.
St. Helens, Geoff Pimblett, Les Jones, Peter Glynn, Derek Noonan, Ray Mathias, Billy Benyon, Jeff Heaton, John Mantle, Tony Karalius, Mel James, George Nicholls, Eric Chisnall, Kel Coslett. Sub, Kenneth Gwilliam.
Referee, M.J Naughton (Widnes).
St. Helens went on to play Eastern Suburbs who were the Australian champions ,in the very first World Club Challenge. Thinking back that should of been Salford’s honour and does seem strange that St. Helens got the opportunity.
Eastern Suburbs are now the Sydney City Roosters. It’s quite ironic the Roosters won the Australian Grand final last weekend and now await Salford or St. Helens in The World Club Challenge at the start of next season.
For the record Eastern Suburbs beat St. Helens at the Sydney Cricket ground 25-2 on the 29th June 1976.
Their is no doubt the talent and quality that Justin Holbrook’s St. Helens side posses. Just three defeats in the regular season saw the Saints storm to the League Leaders shield finishing sixteen points above second place Wigan. A comfortable 40-10 victory over Wigan in the playoffs paved the way for St. Helens to progress to Old Trafford in emphatic fashion.
The two sides have met twice this season with Salford giving a great account of themselves in both fixtures. Who could forget that pulsating match in May which saw the Red Devils go 16-0 down before a tremendous effort scoring thirty unanswered points. Saints broke Salford hearts yet again with a last gasp try to snatch the victory 32-30. St Helens also came out on top back in February at the AJ Bell Stadium with a hard fought 4-26 win.
Saints star Johnny Lomax.
Saturday’s contest should be absolutely fascinating. Salford have proved this season that they can really defend when a team throws the kitchen sink at them. St. Helens have all the pace and attacking flair to cause any team problems. Johnny Lomax has been outstanding this year for Saints who have so many quality, stand out players. Lachlan Coote, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Tommy Makinson and Theo Fages to name a few, in what looks a devastating back line. The forward pack is equally as impressive with man mountain Alex Walmersley, Luke Thompson and Matty Lees. The evergreen James Roby has a wealth of big game experience having played in seven Grand Finals throughout his illustrious career.
Salford have earned plenty of plaudits for their defence this year but attack has been a real strong point playing some fantastic entertaining Rugby League. The Red Devils racked up 783 points in the regular season, second only to St. Helens who notched a magnificent 916.
Salford have plenty of players who can cause damage with forwards Gil Dudson and Lee Mossop In blockbusting form.
Gil Dudson is in fantastic form.
Joey Lussick has scored some priceless tries this season from dummy half and centre Kris Welham is playing the best rugby of his career. Newly crowned Man Of Steel Jackson Hastings has helped breath a belief and confident swagger in to this Salford side. Their work ethic and ethos is remarkable. St. Helens May very well start as favourites but this Salford Red Devils team isn’t scared of anyone. With a huge fanatical support ready to roar them on anything seems possible.
It’s 43 years since Salford’s last major trophy, since then the loyal supporters haven’t had much to shout or dream about. In 2019 though they have a team and club to be proud of. Everyone is talking about Salford Rugby League club for the right reasons and it’s very special to be part of.
The action gets under way at 6pm
Safe travels and enjoy the match everyone. Cherish the whole day and God Bless.
Photos courtesy of
Salford city reporter
Love rugby league