Hull Kingston Rovers v Salford.
Sometimes after a match you think about years gone by. On the way home from Castleford last Friday I was thinking about twenty one years ago, the 2002 season where we lost to Castleford four times. 19-6 in the cup and 24-2 in the league at Wheldon Road. 16-74 at the Willows in a terrible performance before losing 10-20 at home on the final day to confirm our relegation.
Nights like last Friday make all the years of struggle and strain worth while. I think you savour the good wins that little bit more.
This Saturday we travel to Hull Kingston Rovers for a huge Quarter final clash. Rewind to just over twenty years ago and we beat the Robins in the Challenge Cup on their home ground 2-12. It was a miserable and wet Friday night 2nd March 2003. Rovers were in there traditional white and Red kit with Salford playing in Red. After the early stages both sets of players were covered in mud and from the side stand it was difficult to tell the two teams apart.
I think the Challenge Cup is magical. I am not a fan of the current format though. I know it’s seeded to try and save some of the huge scores some of the bigger teams were putting on the minnows but an open draw right the way through would make it that little bit more exciting.
After waiting fifty one years to reach Wembley it was heartbreaking that the Salford supporters couldn’t attend the final in 2020 with it being played behind closed doors. It was a cracking final against Leeds and looking back Salford were a shade unlucky not to win it.
The Robins last reached the final in 2015 but I was a day to forget after they were thumped by Leeds 50-0. Rovers were also beaten finalists in 1904/05, 1924/25, 1963/64, 1980/81 and 1985/86. Both sides have won the Cup just once. Rovers in 1980 and Salford in 1938.
With the unusual kick off time of 12pm it will be an early start for the travelling Salford supporters. The players are set to make the journey on Friday with an overnight stay in the local area.
Challenge Cup record.
Hull Kingston Rovers 4
1901, Hull Kingston Rovers 4 Salford 0.
1946, Hull Kingston Rovers 0 Salford 0.
1946, Salford 38 Hull Kingston Rovers 6.
1957, Hull Kingston Rovers 2 Salford 10.
1981, Hull Kingston Rovers 19 Salford 8.
2003, Hull Kingston Rovers 2 Salford 12.
2011, Salford 0 Hull Kingston Rovers 25.
2017, Salford 24 Hull Kingston Rovers 14.
2019, Salford 18 Hull Kingston Rovers 32.
They played for both.
Here are a selection of players to have represented The Robins and The Red Devils,
Greg Austin, Greg Burke, Chris Charles, Michael Dobson, Sean Gleeson, Darrell Goulding, David Hodgson, Lee Jewitt, Justin Carney, Jordan Walne, Phil Joseph, Tommy Lee, Tyrone McCarthy, Craig Murdock, Cory Paterson, Gareth Price, Scott Taylor, Tony Puletua, Richard Smith, Iain Thornley, Kris Welham, Ken Sio, Weller Hauraki, Ryan Lannon, Adam Walker, Chris Atkin, Sam Luckley, James Greenwood and Daniel Murray.
A match to remember Sunday 15th March 1981.
Hull Kingston Rovers 19 Salford 8.
For the past few years I’ve been writing a book about my dad, his brother and my life following Rugby League. This match in 1981 features with a little tale alongside it so I thought I’d share it with you.
After two Championships in the mid 1970s Salford hit a few bumps in the road towards the back end of the decade. By 1980 players that had brought glory, trophies and plenty of memories to the Willows had either left the club or were in the twilight of their careers. That said Salford did have and exciting crop of young players in the side, Paul Fletcher, David Driver, Dave Harris, Ged Jamieson, Chris Mcgreal, Paul O’Neill, John Rogers, Ron Smith, David Stephenson, Colin Whitfield, Mal Yates and Stuart Williams learnt there craft off the experienced lads like Kevin Ashcroft, Mike Coulman, Keith Fielding, Bill Francis, Frank Wilson, Maurice Richards and Eric Prescott. It seemed a perfect recipe for success and looking back now over forty years later perhaps Salford should of been the team Widnes turned out to be. The team of the 1980s. For one reason or another things didn’t work out.
After beating Bradford and Leigh in the earlier cup rounds the supporters were excited. Bradford had been crowned champions the previous season of 1979/80 and Salford beat them 17-13 at the Willows in the first round. Leigh were another top side back then who went on to win the league in 1981/82 but once again Salford saw them off 12-3 to reach the Quarterfinals. The draw wasn’t exactly kind to them pulling out a tie away at Craven Park to face high flying Hull Kingston Rovers.
The Robins were another Champion side of that era and were the current Challenge Cup holders having beating cross-city rivals Hull 10-5 at Wembley the previous year.
My dad didn’t own a car in 1981 but persuaded his sister to lend him her brand new Mark two Ford Escort. Despite the colour being Swinton blue it was a nice car to drive. My mum went along for the trip up the M62 to Humberside.
The magnificent Humber Bridge had just been completed and their was a viewing point just off the A63. My dad appreciated the engineering and industry that had gone in to the construction and stopped to take a look. Almost forty years later it’s still a monumental landmark and something I always gaze at on my way past. The bridge opened a few months later in June 1981.
On arrival at Craven Park my mum and dad we’re surrounded by The Robins ferocious home support. This is something that’s never bothered my dad as I soon found out once I started going to the matches. The more hostile the atmosphere is the loader he roared his beloved Salford on.
This was a Cup Quarter Final, two games from Wembley.
Over 14,000 supporters packed the old Craven Park Stadium to cheer the sides on. Colin Dixon my dads all time Salford hero had retired at the end of the 1979/80 season after a fantastic career. Having been coaxed out of retirement by the Robins, Colin was on the bench in this clash and it was a real bitter sweet moment for my dad when he came on the pitch. Rightly so he clapped him on.
The match was a real tense encounter. Talented forward Mal Yates scored a try along with another highly rated youngster Paul O’Neill. Steve Rule could only manage one goal. Every time Steve lined a conversion attempt up the noise was deafening from the home fans. They banged the advertising boards as loud as they could. It sounded like a freight train steaming in.
Rovers just had too much for brave Salford. The match finished 19-8 and dreams of Wembley were put on hold for another twelve months. Only three tries to two but Steve Hubbards five goal kicks put Hull Kingston Rovers into the semi final were they would face St. Helens at Headingley.
It’s always a miserable drive home from Hull after a defeat but all of a sudden on the M62 just short of Ferrybridge the lovely blue Ford Escort lost power and came to a stop. My dad found Lindsay’s phone number in the glove box and in the days well before mobile phones he trekked down the hard shoulder to the motorway telephone. Lindsay explained that she was covered by the AA but not the car. This sort of thing never fazes my dad so he made my mum pretend to be his sister as they got towed all the way back to Swinton!
Five days later Hull Kingston Rovers made the journey to the Willows for a Friday night league match. Salford’s new found form was making them a team to watch. In another bitter sweet moment Colin Dixon scored a try for Rovers but this time Steve Rule was in superb form with the boot kicking seven goals. Two tries from another talented young player David Stephenson gave Salford a much deserved victory 20-15.
For the record Hull Kingston Rovers met Widnes in the 1981 Challenge Cup final. Over 92,000 people watched a tense final that Widnes won 18-9.
The teams for the Quarter final of 1981;
Hull KR: Robinson, Hubbard, Smith, Hogan, Muscroft, Hartley, Harkin, Holdstock, Price, Millington, Burton, Rose, Casey.
Subs: Hall and Dixon.
Salford: Rule, Richards, Whitfield, Major, Wilson, Francis, Nash, Coulman, O’Neil, Yates, Henney, Mcgreal, Williams.
Referee, Stan Wall.
Over the last decade or so when these two sides have met there has been no shortage of excitement and usually plenty of tries on display.
Both sides have performed well in the Super League, Salford have won eight from there last nine matches. The Robins however have lost their last four which has seen them drop down to seventh place. Last Saturday they were thumped 38-6 away to Catalans.
Joe Burgess is expected to return after an infection to his knee. That said Rhys Williams has done an excellent job recently and scored six tries in his last four appearances. Williams and Tim Lafai formed a mesmerising partnership last Friday that Castleford couldn’t deal with.
Jordan Abdull returned from injury last weekend for the Robins and on his day is a difficult player to get to grips with. Abdull has a clever kicking game and can create scoring opportunities with his creative flair. It will be interesting to see if he features after picking up another knock against Catalans.
The Salford team has tended to pick its self recently and that continuity has helped Paul Rowley. A settled spine is so important and the signing of Oliver Partington now seems a real master stroke. Partington has fitted into the Salford system perfectly. I think Wigan will possibly regret the decision to release him. King Vuniyayawa has been excellent in recent weeks. Running the ball in hard and making plenty of meters!
The battle of the two packs will be vital on Saturday and I can see the Robins paying particular attention to Croft and Sneyd. It’s a cup tie and a huge one so passions will be running high. Composure will be key, we know Salford will force the pass and play that brand of Rugby we all love and I am sure Rovers will go for it straight from the kick off too. It promises to be a fascinating match. When the two sides met at the Magic Weekend the game was really exciting to watch and with a Semi Final place at stake this one should be a cracker.
The action gets under way at 12pm.
Safe travels and enjoy the match.
Big thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos and the Salford match day programme.