St.Helens v Salford.
If you were a time traveler from the year 1980 who’d just arrived in 2022 you would find it hard to recognise the landscape of the North West of England. Take Salford and nearby Manchester for example. Both Cities were once the heart of industrial Britain. Now they are so cosmopolitan with new buildings sprouting up all the time. Forty two years is a long time but that’s how far you’ve got to go back for Salford’s last away victory at St.Helens.
January 1980, Thatchers Britain for many was a bleak place to live. Lots of unemployment, social unrest, unions organising strikes left, right and centre but Salford Rugby League Club had hit a good patch of form in the First Division. The two Championship success’s of 1973/74 and 1975/76 were now a memory. Players from those sides had moved on and some that were now at the back end of their careers. A kevin Ashcroft drop goal helped Salford to an 17-18 victory at Knowsley Road with tries from Mike Coulman, Eric Prescott and Colin Whitfield. The following week Salford were beaten at home to Blackpool Borough! The 1979/80 season was a successful one with Salford finishing fourth. With a bit more consistency we could of started the decade as champions. Bradford came top seven points in front of Salford but Keith Fielding topped the try scoring charts with thirty.
If you go back through Rugby League history in my dads life time from the 1960s to present their are teams that always seem to be there or thereabouts when it comes to Championships, Trophies and finals. Leeds, St.Helens and Wigan. The Cartel some may say. It’s ironic as we reach the Super League semi finals that these three are all in there along with Salford. This is no fluke though, the Red Devils have earned the right to challenge and whisper it quietly we are one hundred and sixty minutes from being Champions for the first time in forty six years. It’s exciting and also quite scary at the same time.
St.Helens have won the Title for the last three seasons with Grand final victories over Salford (2019), Wigan (2020) and Catalans in 2021.
At the start of the week the bookmakers had Saints as favourites with some giving Salford a ten point start on the coupon. A far bit has been made of Saints and their injury problems in the press with Alex Walmersley set to miss the World Cup as well as Saturday’s match. I’ve not read anything into this at all and whatever team they put out will be a strong one. Every team struggles with injuries and it’s something you just have to deal with. Salford are expected to be without Brodie Croft which is a real blow. I am sure Paul Rowley will try and turn this into a positive situation though and give Chris Atkin a chance at halfback to be the hero. Chris came so close to grabbing the match winning try in the league match at Saints and I’d love him to do the business this weekend. Chris has been a model professional since joining Salford and he deserves all the credit for his hard work. He’s such a valuable player to the Red Devils squad.
The team that beat Huddersfield last Saturday were outstanding from one to seventeen. The energy the players have at this point in the season is at a remarkable level and it seems to put the opposition on the back foot straight away. That’s full credit to the coaching and back room staff who’ve kept the players in peak condition throughout 2022.
Super League away record.
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
2020 St.Helens 48 Salford 8
2021 St.Helens 29 Salford 6 (behind closed doors at Headingley)
2021 St.Helens 28 Salford 0
2022 St.Helens 14 Salford 10
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 Joey Lussick, 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.
Steve Rule, 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.
St.Helens super League play off record.
1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.
Includes 7 Grand Final victories.
Salford play off record.
2006, 2019, 2022
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) .
How will Paul Rowley approach this match? I think we no the answer. Salford will attack this game the same as any other. St.Helens are a Champion team and on Saturday they will get plenty of ball and throw a lot at the Red Devils. The commitment in defence against Huddersfield won the match in my opinion. When Ryan Brierley was in the sin bin the way the lads defended had the crowd roaring louder than any of the tries we scored.
Brodie Croft has been a revelation and teams haven’t been able to defend him recently. He will be missed but Salford still have plenty of attacking options to play with. Marc Sneyd has all the experience required in big games and our forward pack has been awesome. Players are always looking to promote and offload the ball leaving the opposition guessing. Jack Ormondroyd was like a man possessed last Saturday. Tyler Dupree is becoming a real handful and Kallum Watkins has grabbed the attention of the rugby league media with his all action performances.
Saints have lots of pace and quality in their team and it will be interesting to see the twenty one man squad that coach Kristian Woolf goes with. Jack Welsby can play in a number of positions and James Roby has seen it all in his long career. Apart from two big wins over Hull Fc and Hull Kingston Rovers, Saints have struggled for form in the last few months. They are definitely equipped for playoff rugby though having played in the end of season concept every year since 1998.
Both sides like to play exciting rugby league so I am expecting some thrilling stuff on Saturday. Salford are again expected to have a large following behind them having sold plenty of tickets again. Last week at Huddersfield the atmosphere was spine tingling behind the sticks. Supporters young and old enjoyed a memorable afternoon in West Yorkshire.
Forty two years is a long time in sport. Now is the time to lay that ghost to rest! This Salford side of 2022 might not be packed with star names but it’s on the brink of something special, something heroic and something that would be remembered forever.
The action gets under way at 1pm.
Safe travels and enjoy the match.
Big thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos.