What a match to start the new season and new decade. The two Grand Finalists meeting in what should be a thrilling match. It’s a long time since Salford won this fixture, to be precise it’s 40 years and 14 days exactly. Or if you like numbers it’s 14,614 days ago.
Saturday 12th January 1980 seems a life time ago. So much has changed in sport and society in general but that’s how far you have to go back.
The Rubix cube had just made its debut at The International Toy Fair. New Romantics were taking over the pop charts, The Jam we’re enjoying number ones and The British Steel Corporation had started a nationwide strike. Times were changing and so was the sport of Rugby League.
It’s a record that needs breaking and Salford have certainly come close in recent seasons.
The 2017 match was a real bitter pill to swallow after Salford had lead 8-24 going in to the closing stages. It’s hard for me to say it but it was a remarkable comeback from a club that never seem to give in. “Never write off The Saints” as people say!
A terrific match last May had everything. The swashbuckling Saints stormed in to a match winning lead before Ian Watson’s men stunned everyone by scoring thirty unanswered points . St. Helens then gave us another comeback and with a try in the dying moments of the match as they snatched the game in controversial circumstances. James Bentley’s try was reviewed by the video referee but didn’t look conclusive. That said it was a terrific encounter.
October’s Grand Final was another game the Salford players and supporters can be very proud of. A heroic display against the best side in the country by a significant distance saw the Red Devil’s scale new heights of publicity, gaining a fair few friends on the way.
With Justin Holbrook returning to Australia St. Helens have a new coach in Kristian Woolfe. With no players coming in to join the club in the close season Woolfe still has an excellent squad to pick from in 2020 and Saints are strong favourites for silverware again.
For the record the last time the two sides met on the opening day of the season was back in 1999 at the Willows, Saints won that one 12-30. Salford were then coached by Andy Gregory. A big crowd of 7,337 saw Saints edge to a 14-18 victory on the opening day of the previous year in 1998.
Match stats and team lines from the 1998 Super League opening fixture.
Super league Away Record at St. Helens
St. Helens 23
1997 St. Helens 19 Salford 12
1998 St. Helens 48 Salford 12
1999 St. Helens 48 Salford 0
2000 St. Helens 46 Salford 22
2000 St. Helens 50 Salford 28
2001 St. Helens 66 Salford 16
2002 St. Helens 34 Salford 2
2004 St. Helens 40 Salford 4
2005 St. Helens 46 Salford 12
2006 St. Helens 28 Salford 6
2007 St. Helens 48 Salford 4
2007 St. Helens 27 Salford 26
2009 St. Helens 38 Salford 12
2010 St. Helens 58 Salford 34
2011 St. Helens 31 Salford 6 (played at Widnes)
2012 St. Helens 38 Salford 10
2013 St. Helens 14 Salford 10
2014 St. Helens 32 Salford 12
2015 St. Helens 32 Salford 12
2016 St. Helens 34 Salford 20
2017 St. Helens 25 Salford 24
2018 St. Helens 32 Salford 2
2019 St. Helens 32 Salford 30
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.
The Legendary Alex Murphy coached both Clubs.
A match to remember, 12th January 1980.
St. Helens 17 Salford 18.
After a successful period for Salford in the 1970s as the decade ended cracks were starting to appear. Players were moving on and some getting older but their was still some stalwarts at the club with Mike Coulman, Colin Dixon, Keith Fielding, Kenny Gill, Alan Grice, Steve Nash, Eric Prescott and Maurice Richards all on the playing roster. Between them they had tons of big game experience and hundreds of matches under their belts.
The 1979/80 season would go on to be modestly successful for Salford with a final league position of fourth. Top of the table at Christmas time and unbeaten in the league for the first few months of the season the supporters were dreaming of good times again.
December 79 was a tough month and three defeats against three of the top sides of that period Bradford, Widnes and Hull Kr were a slight set back.
With young star hooker Paul O’Neil on international duty playing for Great Britain under 24s changes were made. Kevin Ashcroft came in at hooker for O’Neil and Sammy Turnbull played right centre.
Scrum halves Dave Harris and Steve Nash were both injured so new signing John McAtee made his debut.
Eric Prescott tackled everything putting in an all action display in the pack.
Mike Coulman ran the ball hard all afternoon against a very tough St. Helens pack that included terrific ball playing forward George Nicholls and big Powerful Eric Chisnall.
The game was nip and tuck all the way. Salford’s three tries came from Coulman, Prescott and Colin Whitfield. Goal kicking full back Steve Rule booted four conversions but the unlikely match winner was veteran hooker Kevin Ashcroft. His drop goal snatched it for Salford in what was a thrilling afternoon at Knowsley Road.
The teams that day;
St. Helens, Brian Parkes, Les Jones, Clive Griffiths, Derek Noonan, Roy Mathias,
Steve Peters, Johnny Smith, Mel James, Graham Liptrot, Eric Chisnall, Chris Seldon, Peter Gorley, George Nicholls.
Subs, Denis Litherland and Roy Haggerty.
Salford, Steve Rule, Keith Fielding, Sam Turnbull, Colin Whitfield, Maurice Richards, Frank Wilson, John McAtee, Mike Coulman, Kevin Ashcroft, Tony Gourley, Chris Mcgreal, Stuart Williams, Eric Prescott.
Referee, Mr J.E. Smith. (Halifax) .
St. Helens and Salford have produced some pulsating matches in this fixture. It’s fair to say the Red Devils have been on the end of a fair few hidings as well.
Intensity levels are set to go through the roof especially the way Saints play. You can’t afford to clock off and concentration for the full eighty minutes will be vital. Salford’s goal line defence must be water tight.
Kristian Woolfe has got big shoes to fill having taken over from departing coach Justin Holbrook. The St. Helens crowd will have high expectations but from a Salford point of view this could be the right time to catch them cold.
It promises to be an electric atmosphere with the Red Devils faithful travelling in big numbers. As we saw last season sport is all about belief, confidence and momentum. If Salford could pull off a victory in this match it would give the club a huge boost with home games coming up in the next month or so.
As we wait with eager anticipation for the 19 man squad later this week everyone has an opinion on what their starting 13 would be. Ian Watson has some tough decisions to make after last Thursdays match at Warrington.
Salford coach Ian Watson will be looking to mastermind another historic win on Friday.
Safe travels and enjoy the match everyone.