Category: Feature

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 3)

Part 3 –HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER

The absolute highlight of Paul’s career came with his elevation to the international stage, with Great Britain.  The first of these occasions came when they faced New Zealand, at Bradford, in the second test of the 1965, three-test series.  At the time, the fullback position was securely in the hands of, then, Swinton fullback, Kenny Gowers, but he had been injured, and so Paul was brought in to replace him for that one test match, which Great Britain won 15-9.

Gowers was fit enough to return for the third test, and Paul then had to wait until he had joined Salford before he was recalled for the 1970 World Cup, and, even then, it was in something of a peripheral role, with Widnes’s, Ray Dutton, holding down the fullback slot for the majority of the games, probably for his additional ability to kick goals, in which he was prolific.

“I was included in the squad for the tournament, but I didn’t play in it, very much.  The one match I did get on for was against New Zealand, at Station Rd, Swinton, which we won.”

The whole competition was based on a league basis, in which the four competing countries played each of the others, with the two top teams proceeding to the final, at Headingley.

“It was most beneficial to me because it gave me a foretaste of the whole international environment, ahead of my full involvement in the 1972 World Cup held in France.  The progress I had made, in just a few years, was quite considerable, but the opportunity I got this time was due to having been at Salford.

“It just showed what a good move it had been for me to have gone there, because without that, I’m pretty sure I would have been in and out of the international side, again and again.”

With a fair proportion of the GB squad for that 1972 World Cup tournament being made up of Salford players, particularly in the backline, having Paul as one of them made the utmost sense, when they all had such an in-depth understanding of one another, and each individual’s strengths.

“I’d really got to know, by this time, how each of them worked as individuals, and as a group, on the field.  Had I been coming in from another club it would have been quite a steep learning curve for me.

“Another thing which is of great importance is getting on well with your teammates.  Having a good camaraderie with them is essential, because it does so much to building up the team spirit, and we at Salford had an absolutely tremendous one.  We all knew that we could rely on one another.

“We got to the final, where we had to play Australia, again, having won all of our qualifying games, including the one against them, 27-21.  The final ended in a 10-10 draw, but because we had the better scoring average overall, we were crowned winners.   I personally think that that was a little unfair, and I do believe that the game should have been replayed, as would have happened with any other drawn final, in those days.

“I can clearly remember the occasion to this day.  I remember coming out of the changing-room, totally unaware as to just how big these Aussies were, until we all lined up alongside each other to go out onto the field and I found myself standing next to Artie Beetson.  He was head and shoulders above me, and something like ten stone heavier.  Over the years, I got to know him quite well, and, believe me, he was an absolute gentleman.”

Paul had now become firmly established as first choice fullback for the international side, with his next being included in the 1974 Great Britain tour of Australia.

“We flew into Cairns for the first of our tour games, and then, by means of planes and coaches we travelled down the east coast, calling off at venues such as Rockhampton, and quite a number of outback settlements.  Wherever we went, the receptions we got from the local inhabitants was absolutely fantastic.  Eventually we arrived in Brisbane, where we played the first test at Lang Park, which, unfortunately, we lost 12-6.

“From there we set off on our way down to Sydney, in a similar mix of road and air travel.  What also was exactly the same was the tremendous, friendly, welcome we received, wherever we stopped off.  I was absolutely taken with the beautiful country we travelled through. I can remember thinking that I would love, one day, to come to live there and that I must bring my wife to see it for herself to see whether she felt so too.

“The second test was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and after the defeat in Brisbane, one or two selection changes were made, with Kenny Gill being brought in, to partner Stevie Nash, and Roger Milward moving onto the wing.  This did the trick, and we went on to win 11-16.

“Sydney Cricket Ground was also the venue for the third test, but the result that afternoon went 22-18 in favour of the Australians, after which we flew to New Zealand, where we won two of the four fixtures, but the test match there, at Carlaw Park, Auckland, was one of the pair we lost, in this case by 13-8.

After an international career, which earned him a total of twenty international caps, his last representative honour came when he became a member of the newly formed England side, which played their first match against France, in February, once again at Headingley, where they got off to a winning start, ahead of the imminent World Cup tournament, later that year.

“That game proved to be my last international game because George Fairbairn had been being groomed for the position for a while, and they made the decision to go with him, thereafter.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 2)

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Comfortable and happy as Paul was plying his trade with Workington, things were about to change, as attention in his direction had been attracted one hundred and twenty-five miles south, in Salford, where club chairman, Brian Snape, was making massive strides in rebuilding the club and its team.

“Mr Snape had already assembled an extremely good team together, but was always looking at ways to improve it, and in me he saw someone who would strengthen the back line, so he made contact with Tom Mitchell, with whom he had a good friendship, and a deal was eventually concluded between them.

“I hadn’t wanted to leave Workington at all but wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of going to Salford, particularly when Mr Mitchell told me how in need of the money Workington were, with decreasing crowds putting their finances under considerable strain.

“My wife and I were invited down to Salford, to visit the club and have a look around, and we were most impressed by what we saw, all the more so when we went into the restaurant to see Manchester City coach, Malcolm Allison, in there, having his lunch.  We spoke, and he wished me all the best on my signing and urged me to make the most of my opportunity with Salford.

“Kenny Gwilliam had been Salford’s regular fullback, for a couple of seasons, and had played for the Reds in their Challenge Cup Final, at Wembley.  With my arrival, however, he was, most deservedly, rewarded with a transfer to another top Lancashire side – his hometown team, St Helens.

“Once all the details of the transfer had been ironed out, we moved down to Salford.  At first, we lived above Brian Snape’s offices, but he also owned a couple of houses in Kildare Rd, and he sold one of these to us.  He certainly did all he could to help me settle into the area, and he really was a lovely person.

”I even remember from my very early days, that he had installed his son-in-law, and former Preston Grasshoppers, and Salford, winger, Paul Murphy, as manager of The Willows; a position which he then held for several years.”

Settling into the area is always quite crucial for any player moving to a different part of the country, and in the early days of ultra-short motorways, the distance he found himself from Whitehaven could have been problematic.  Fortunately, that proved not to be the case.

“We settled quite quickly.  I was a joiner by trade, and I soon had a job where I fitted into the company very well.  The boss was a big Salford supporter so that helped.”

Moving to a top side in any sport brings with it a wide range of rewards, and experiences, to be enjoyed.  Apart from the financial benefits there are also on-field successes and a certain degree of notoriety, whilst playing among top quality players brings out the best in everyone’s performance, as Paul readily acknowledges.

“Without any shadow of doubt, I became a far better player for having gone to Salford than I had been, when at Workington.  I had been one of the top players there, but, when I went to Salford, we were all equally as good as one another. We consequently encouraged, and inspired, one another to improve, week by week, season by season.

“We would train occasionally at The Willows, but more usually it was at the Cliff, in Urmston.  It was a playing field, with a shed for us to get changed in.  Going in there for my first session was a memorable experience.  Just being among all those stars was an incredible feeling in itself, but to be playing alongside them was the best thing I can ever remember.

There, nevertheless, was a short period of adjustment and settling in to be gone through, in order for him to become totally conversant with all that was happening around him on the field, and why.

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen overnight.  New players, coming into a team, often try too hard because they are unsure of all that is going on in the game.  Because of that they then stiffen up, and that reduces their performance level.  Within five or six weeks of playing with Salford, however, I’d become totally relaxed, and everything just came as normal.  I didn’t even have to work for it; it just worked itself.

“That was thanks to the other players.  They taught me a considerable amount from the very start – stuff I’d never come across before, which pushed my performance level up further still.  No-one ever stops learning but when you’ve got players of that calibre, all together, the opportunities to do so are absolutely rife.

“We also had extremely knowledgeable coaches.  Griff Jenkins was the coach when I arrived.  He had had the great success of taking Salford to Wembley for the first time in thirty years, the season before.

“He was replaced twelve months later, by Cliff Evans, who had previously been coach at Swinton.  He was a schoolteacher, and an extremely nice guy.  He produced some fabulous moves for us, which took the whole team to another level again.  Everyone knew their own role, and one another’s, the circumstances of when to employ each move, and the calls that went with them.  It all just came together so well, which developed a tremendous team spirit.

“Brian Snape was fundamental in the building of that.  On one occasion, we had lost at home owing to a poor refereeing decision, and he eradicated all the feelings of dejection and dissatisfaction by giving us winning pay, as a form of consolation.

“Our second-row pairing of Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No1) and Colin Dixon was exceptional, and I used to follow them around the field, and got quite a number of tries by doing so, because they would drive the ball up and then feed it to me alongside them, and, of course, by this time I had acquired some pace, so was able to race through for the score.

“Winning the First Division Championship, in the 1973/4, season was the highlight of my time at Salford.  They repeated the fete, two seasons later, in ‘75/6 but by then I had returned to Workington, so missed out on that one.”

There has always been a general acceptance, that, in some respects, the team slightly underachieved in terms of trophy successes, and that there should have been more occasions, and seasons, similar to that of ‘73/4, but Paul has his own particular view on that.

“In the time that I was with the club, they had success in a number of ways, in particular by being a significant factor in most competitions, and also by getting to the finals and semi-finals of tournaments such as the Lancashire Cup, Regal Trophy and BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in which we did have our successes in winning a number of those.

“What I would say, though, is our playing style was not particularly suited to the grind of winning enough games in any one competition, because we were far more flamboyant as a team than any other club, but that came at the expense of a hard-work ethic.  Consequently, when we came up against the likes of Leeds, Castleford, and St Helens, we just lacked that toughness that was necessary to overcome these sides, especially on one-off occasions.”

What, of course, Salford fans had, far in excess of any other club at the time, was the sheer entertainment value in the rugby the players provided.

“On those Friday nights at The Willows, you certainly couldn’t have got anything better, and with an average attendance of around eleven thousand, people certainly must have felt that they were getting value for their money.  There certainly weren’t many empty seats left by the time of the kick-off.”

Despite all his claims to having been short of pace, in his early days, by the time he came to Salford, Paul had pace to burn.  Add to that the degree of acceleration he possessed, once described as ‘his change of gear’, which all too often foiled an opponent, who thought they could snuff out the threat he posed, with an early tackle.  Then, whilst in full flight he would employ a swerve to get round a fullback, and in a matter of seconds he had changed the whole balance of the game.

“Once I got in the clear, I could then slow down a little to conserve my energy, but I could also side-step off either foot.  That’s a great asset, if you can do it, because it’s not something you can teach.  I’d be going forward and there would be a guy in front of me, and I would just find myself going to the left then immediately to the right, and I’d be past him.  It’s an inner skill, and I’m fortunate to have been one of those people to have had that.”

It was not solely on attack that he used his pace to such significant effect; it was also in defence.  Many is the time that a fullback is faced with an oncoming winger, but Paul knew exactly how to deal with the situation.  He would hold back, thereby allowing the winger to keep to the touchline thinking he could get to the try-line, but then Paul would accelerate to top speed and the pair of them would end up in one heap, over the touchline.

“In my early playing days, I could never have done that, but it was all down to having the ability to go from idle to full-throttle in an inkling.  Once I found that it worked, I developed it so that I was able to stop top class wingers like John Atkinson, of Leeds, in full flight.  I just thought to myself, push him over to the touchline, don’t give him too much room, and then crack him.

“It was the timing of my acceleration which was the crucial item. It worked almost every time, but it was something that seems to have been unique to me because, to this day, I have never seen anyone else do that the way I did it.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT1)

Salford’s Former International Fullback, Paul Charlton, Recalls Memories Of His Rugby League Playing Days

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

 

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

A native of the County formerly known as Cumberland, Paul Charlton grew up in the coastal, rugby-loving, town, of Whitehaven, where he spent his early years, accompanied by his grandfather, watching his local team.

“I was only seven, when I first started watching Whitehaven, but it was really enjoyable from the very start, and I quickly got hooked, so much so that when asked what I wanted for Christmas, that year, I immediately said a rugby ball.  That, then, enabled a few of us to go onto the back field, on a Sunday afternoon, to have a game of touch rugby, which would last nearly until bedtime.

“It might be hard to believe now, but, in those days, there were some really good players playing for Whitehaven, and to me I thought they were superstars, which simply added to the thrill of watching the team.  It really took a grip of me, and I just wanted to become a player, myself, though I never really thought I would because I was only a small, skinny, little lad.  Being a Whitehaven supporter, however, I only ever wanted to play for them.

“Unlike many of the friends with whom I had grown up, I was much more interested in pursuing this ambition than going out to the pub with them, so that eventually, at the age of seventeen, I went over to my local amateur club, Kells ARLFC.  I was quite amazed at everything that went on there, with the training and the structure they had, so decided to join them.”

It was not very long before he got his first chance for a game in their U19s side.

“One of the team cried off and I was called into the side, which was quite daunting because two years’ difference at that age is a considerable amount, and I wasn’t even ten stone, at the time.”

It was not only to be his first actual match, it was also to be his first appearance in the number one, fullback’s jersey.

“If I hadn’t taken up this opportunity, I would very soon have been given the boot.  Even then, I was not only still lacking in size, I also had no pace whatsoever; even the prop forwards were faster than I was.”

Far from being disheartened by this, Paul just buckled down to address his physical shortcomings, with sheer intensive, hard training, interspersed with the odd game.

“It all progressed from there, and I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I progressed from zero to two hundred, in seven years.  Possibly, it was because I was playing alongside others who had been playing for a while, and who gave me great encouragement to do well.”

Unbeknown to Paul, a scout for, of all clubs in the league, Workington Town, Jim Kitchen. had seen him playing and had been really taken with his talent and attitude.  When broached about a possible move there, however, Paul, then aged twenty, thought the whole notion of that to be something of a wind-up.

“I was barely eleven stone in weight, and still quite slow.  I didn’t even consider myself suitable for ‘A’ team football, let alone first team, so I just kept hanging off making any commitment.  Apart from anything else, both my dad and my grandfather were big supporters of Whitehaven so in no way could I see myself playing for the arch-enemy Workington.”

His father, however, could see the sense in following the offer through, so, with tribal loyalties dispensed with, Paul made his way up to Workington, who simply were not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer.

“It was very much contrary to the dictates of my heart because I’d always wanted to play for Whitehaven.  I’d even trained with them occasionally, whilst playing with Kells, but nothing had ever been forthcoming from them, so I took up the offer of going to Workington.”

One benefit of moving to a semi-professional club was that the lack of pace, which had been so much of a hindrance to his progress, improved beyond all recognition to the extent that he was soon beating some of the speedsters of the side, over a hundred yards.

“I was so unbelievably slow when I first signed but I must have put on over fifteen metres, and that gave me my first chance in the first team, in 1964, at Rochdale, where we won 12-8.  The players and the support staff at Workington were all really good guys, and so very encouraging, and fair, in the way they treated me.

“The extremely flamboyant, Tom Mitchell, was the chairman, and throughout the world of rugby, he was regarded as the sort of guy for whom you would give an arm and leg.  It was a great move by Great Britain, when they appointed him as manager to their 1966 tour.

“Among the players there was Syd Lowden, who later moved to play in the backs for Salford, a few seasons before I signed there.  I got my next call into the first team, in 1965, when he cried off for an away match at Wigan, which, against all the odds, we won.  That was my breakthrough, and when Syd was once again fit, he was played in the centre, and I retained the fullback spot.  My self-belief soared from that.”

By the later part of the sixties, the name of Paul Charlton had become widely known across rugby league circles, culminating in his winning the most prestigious ‘Players No 6, Player of the Year Award’, which was an early forerunner of the present day, ’Man of Steel’.  (The photograph above shows Paul being presented with this award)

“That was an absolutely unbelievable achievement, and moment, in my playing career.  Words just cannot describe the feelings that go with being regarded as the top player in the whole of British rugby league.  It was a culmination of all the hard work that not only I had put in, but, equally so, that of so many people who had helped me along the way.  I just hope that they were able to share in my elation at such a success.”

The only person, who, it seems, was unaware of his widespread notoriety, appears to have been Paul himself.

“I lived in Whitehaven, remember.  I didn’t even know what was going on in Manchester, let alone across the whole of rugby league.  I was just enjoying playing my rugby, and in fact, had Salford not come in for me, I would have been quite happy just being a one club player with Workington Town.”

Not even Whitehaven, by this time could have lured him away, because the sheer acrimony between the two rival Cumbrian clubs was so intense.

“On one of my first visits with Town to the Recreation Ground, I was standing behind the posts while Whitehaven were taking a kick at goal, and a couple of bottles came flying at me from behind, along with a whole diatribe of verbal abuse hurled at me for having dared join Workington and turning out for them against my hometown club.  Whoever threw those bottles just never realised that Haven had had their chance to sign me but had never shown any interest in doing so.

“Fortunately, the bottles did miss me, but only just, and even worse, they were empty.”

“Those people in the stands are my people” – Ryan Brierley

Salford Red Devils’ latest signing Ryan Brierley knows just how special our club is to its fanbase, having grown up in the stands as a supporter.

Brierley, 29, signed for the Red Devils last Sunday from Leigh Centurions, finally achieving his boyhood dream of pulling on the red of Salford.

“When I was a young boy I had a dream that I wanted to play for Salford, so to finally crack that dream is surreal,” Brierley revealed.

Brierley, who can play in the halves or at fullback, is looking forward to playing in front of the fans he’s rubbed shoulders with in the terraces for years.

The Scotland international said: “Those people in the stands are my people, I’ve stood next to them for decades and gone through the tough times.

“I’ve always felt like one of them, so I understand what this club means for people.”

Our latest addition had some words of praise for the squad here at Salford, and Brierley is excited to get stuck in with his new teammates.

“The array of talent in this team is unbelievable. To play with calibre of players can only make you better.”

Speaking on the acquisition of Brierley, director of rugby and operations Ian Blease said: “I’ve tried to sign Ryan a couple of times previously, so I’m extremely pleased to capture him this time. Ryan has been in great form lately and will give us some great positional options for 2022 onwards.

After speaking to him for sometime now, I know how excited he and his family are for him to wear our famous shirt. I can’t wait to see him in preseason and to work with him for the next two years at the Red Devils.”

Burke – “It’s somewhere we can go and express ourselves”

Salford Red Devils forward Greg Burke believes tomorrow’s Dacia Magic Weekend opener against Castleford Tigers at St James’ Park, provides the perfect tonic to put on a display for the travelling fans.

Burke, who has shared the armband with Kevin Brown over recent weeks since Lee Mossop’s retirement, has revealed that the mood in the camp this week has been positive, as the Red Devils look to build on their Bank Holiday bruising over Hull FC, in Newcastle tomorrow afternoon.

Burke said: “It’s a showcase for the Super League and we have spoken about that this week, about how it’s somewhere we can go and express ourselves.

“All the games are on Sky and we want to put in a good performance first and foremost for ourselves, but also for the fans and the viewers watching.”

Recently surpassing 200 career appearances, Burke has been a Salford player for two years now, excluding his loan spell in 2018, helping the side reach the 2019 Betfred Super League Grand Final in his first season as a permanent Red Devil, and the Betfred Challenge Cup Final last year.

Salford’s number 16 is one of the more senior players in the camp and has stepped up since Moose’s retirement.

Speaking on captaining the club recently, Burke said: “It’s been a massive honour to be seen as a leader.

“To be asked to be captain, I was happy to accept that. I’ve been really happy to be honest.”

Burke revealed that the team have been fully focused on tomorrow’s opponents, who will be fielding an almost full strength side in Newcastle, compared to the last Tigers side that were on the receiving end of a 70-18 thrashing at the hands of Marshall’s men in July.

Speaking on Castleford, Burke added: “It’ll be a massively different challenge this week. It’s a Cas team that are at the best strength they can be.

“We know we have to be on this week to give ourselves a chance, and that’s what we’ve spoke about.”

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v HULL FC

A magnificent second half performance put the seal on what was arguably Salford’s best all round performance of the season, which sent home the Salford fans brimming with sheer delight, and the Humbersiders with their tails firmly between their legs.

Hull got off to the best of starts, opening the scoring after only three minutes’ play, when Jake Connor scooted from dummy half to set up the supporting Ligi Sao with an easy run in, to the left of the posts.

Twice, over the following ten minutes, the visitors carved out openings for themselves in the Salford defence, but were, fortunately, forced into errors which prevented any further scores, and from that the Red Devils gained some little confidence which saw them start to put pressure on the Hull line.

A penalty for off-side gave them back-to-back sets, with Greg Burke being brought to a halt, but not to ground, close to the posts, and his quick play-the-ball enabled dummy half Chris Atkin, to continue the move to the right, with halfbacks Ata Hingano and Tui Lolohea getting the ball to the unmarked Ken Sio who went in, at the corner.

Krisnan Inu landed his first kick from the touchline, and went on to land each and every one of his seven attempts, many of them from out wide, all of which helped the Reds build up an unassailable lead, relatively quickly, once they got on top.

That was for later, though.  In the meantime, Hull were able to retake the lead with a penalty goal from Mark Sneyd, until five minutes from halftime, when the Red Devils scored the most remarkable of tries, from a volley of kicks.

First, Atkin put in a high, end-of-set kick to Joe Burgess’s corner, where, as he so frequently does, he climbed high in the air to knock the ball back to Sarginson, who, in turn put in a cross-field kick to the right.  This was taken by Ken Sio, who promptly responded with a low short kick of his own into the in-goal area, to where he followed through with the grounding, to put Salford in front 12-8, at the interval.

Fans’ satisfaction with that lead, during the break, was possibly tempered somewhat with concern as to how the visitors might respond in the second half, and respond they certainly did, after seven minutes, with their second try from former Salford half back, Mark Sneyd’s in-goal grubber kick, which ricocheted well from the upright, for Danny Houghton to restore the Yorkshire side’s advantage.

The arm wrestle, which this had interrupted, then continued for a further ten minutes, during which both sides vied to take the ascendency, which, when it eventually came, was well and truly taken by the Red Devils.

Belying the fact that they were squaring up to a big set of forwards, the Salford pack which contained not a single member of the club’s starting pack, at the start of the season, continued exactly where they had left off against the massive forwards of Catalans Dragons, four days earlier.

First, and most importantly, they significantly improved their defensive capabilities, by increasing to three, the number of players involved in many of the tackles, instead of relying on one-on-one attempts to bring down bigger and stronger opponents.  Indeed, Jack Ormondroyd had had his afternoon brought to a prematurely early finish, after he had been laid out in one of the opening clashes.

In addition, the hard graft of making yardage up field was shared out with the three-quarters, all of whom made their fair share of progress into the Hull ranks, and towards their line.  Ken Sio may quite well have been awarded Man of the Match, not only for his great fete in scoring four tries, but also, for his strong contribution, in this respect, throughout the game.

The rewards for this spate of sheer hard graft, were to come in the last quarter of the game, when their leg-weary opponents were really put to the torch.  Salford, still looking remarkably fresh, put together a display of first-class entertainment by means of top-drawer attacking skills, which completely ripped the Hull defence to shreds.

In the final twenty-two minutes, Marshall’s men scored no less than five converted tries producing a total of thirty points which they accrued at a rate of well over a point per minute.  Salford have invariably looked a well-drilled attacking side, but often spoiling things with simple errors.  There was none of that, on Monday, and as the game sped quickly by, it looked more and more as though they could score at will, and they more or less did exactly that.

The avalanche was started on 57 mins, by Atkin, with a scoot from dummy half, but the build up to that simple act had lasted exactly three and a quarter minutes of ball-in-play action, during which they started no less than eight sets, as a consequence of three set-restarts, two penalties, a Hull touch-in-flight, and a goal-line drop-out.  Little wonder, then, that that final scoot caught the opposition’s defence somewhat off-guard.

The remaining four scores were considerably more straight forward, with Burgess, once again, scaling the heights in Hull’s in-goal area, this time to palm the ball back to Harvey Livett for the first.  This was followed three minutes later by smooth hands sending the ball from right to left, with a final, telling, pass from Lolohea to the unmarked Burgess, who romped home to put the game well beyond the aspirations of the visitors.

Indeed, their subsequent kick-off failed to make the required ten metre mark, which meant Salford were in possession and on the attack again.  This time the ball was moved to the right and Lolahea’s pass on this occasion put Sio in for his hat-trick.

It had, however, been a couple of weeks since we had last seen that Salford hallmark of a length of the field try, down the right flank, so cue, Inu, once again, to be provider and Sio to round off an incredible afternoon for the Red Devils, and, on a personal note, for himself, also.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v CATALANS

It might seem an extremely large step up from playing twelfth placed Leigh in one match, to be facing current league leaders Catalans, four days later, yet, in truth, the Salford Red Devils fared far better against the Frenchmen than many might have expected.

Not that the scoreboard reflected that, with the visitors crossing for a total of seven tries, but the Reds were in contention for much of the game, going over for three of their own.

Even more disappointing was the fifty-fifty decision going against Morgan Escare, halfway through the second forty, when he hared over the line, only for an obstruction to be ruled.  An additional four, or even six, points would have benefitted the Red Devils greatly, at that particular time, with the Dragons being down to twelve men, with McIlorum in the sin-bin.  Furthermore, Salford were to have a second, but less debatable, try ruled out for offside, shortly before the end.

The size of the visiting pack was immense, and with Salford’s pack lacking the likes of Pauli Pauli, Seb Ikahihifo, James Greenwood and Elijah Taylor – not to mention the now retired, Lee Mossop – those who had to go head-to-head with Sam Kasiano, along with Julien Bousquet, Jordan Dezaria, and others, did extremely well to keep them in check to the extent that they did.

Understandably, when in possession, the Red Devils’ plan was to go round the outside of their opponents, and the return of Chris Atkin, in particular, helped considerably with this, as also did the move back to stand -off of Tui Lolohea.  The ball was moved with a pace, and a slickness, that had been nowhere near as in evidence the weekend before, thereby moving the Catalans defence around and wearing some of their energy from them.

For the second consecutive game Harvey Livett underlined his return to his early season form by getting on the scoresheet, when he showed considerable command and pace, running onto Lolohea’s clever pass, all of which took him through the French defensive line for the Red Devils’ first try, on thirty-four minutes.  If only they could have then kept their line intact to half time it might have been an even tougher test of the Dragons, with Salford back in clear contention.

As it was, Kasiano burst onto a short pass, like a thunderbolt, to score in the dying seconds of the half, and infuriatingly Catalans did the same in the last minute of the second period, which total of twelve points took the visitors well away from the Red Devils.

For much of the second period, however, Marshall’s men matched, and troubled, their opponents for lengthy periods.  Three minutes after the restart, a really good attacking move saw the ball go, swiftly and tellingly, through the hands of Ackers, Addy, and Atkin, to Dan Sarginson, who followed up his initial kick, later diverted infield by Williams, to touch down for Salford’s second try.

Ten minutes from the end, man-of-the-match, Escare, gained some compensation for his earlier lost attempt by winding up Salford’s tally with their final score.  A penalty kick put them in position, and then after a strong carry towards the line by Josh Johnson, half backs, Atkin and Lolohea, combined well to put the fullback through the gap they had opened up.

While it might have seemed something of a consolation score, the fact that for this try, and the earlier two, the Red Devils had produced some rewards for their hard work by thrice putting the league leaders between their own goalposts, with fine handling skills, should give them encouragement for the games still to come.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: LEIGH v SALFORD

The sheer importance of the Rivals Round was always going to be far greater to Leigh than to the Red Devils, for whom it was the first of four matches in a fortnight, with a mere four days between each, whereas for the winless Centurions, it represented the latest of only a handful of lingering games, from which they might be able to secure a victory.

Of course, when you are faced with the number of fixtures being crammed into the next fortnight, culminating with the Magic Weekend, you work on a one game at a time basis, and do all you can to start with a win, by being totally focused on the task in hand and clinical in your execution.

And that is just how the Red Devils started the game, running in the first try of the afternoon, in under two minutes, when Kevin Brown cleverly changed the direction of the attack back towards the left, which completely wrong footed the home side and presented the flawless, Rhys Williams, with a walk-in at the corner.

There is always a danger in scoring too early and too easily, because time and time again it seems to have a demotivating effect on the team which goes ahead without having even been tested, in any way.  That certainly is how it appeared with Salford, with their work ethic being forgotten in their eagerness to secure further easy pickings, which led to a number of unforced errors manifesting themselves.

Leigh, meanwhile, had been caught cold and sought to rectify it with ball in hand, once some possession came their way, and those Salford errors certainly helped.  Not only that, the errors gave them the encouragement to apply pressure on the Reds’ attack, and force even more.

From that point on, Leigh had lengthy periods of possession, which they put to good use, gaining in confidence as each repeat set came their way, and playing some extremely fluent rugby, while the visitors had to spend far too long and far too much energy defending their line, which they kept intact, until Joe Mellor’s quick thinking, on 18 mins, caught them out with a chip and chase to open the home account, to which they added another well-worked try from Keanan Brand.

To be fair, Salford players did what any team would do, when taken by surprise by another, which was to stick with them points-wise, until the game swung in their favour, and they got more plentiful possession, and the ascendency.  Consequently, they turned round at the interval only four points adrift, following a further converted touch-down from Harvey Livett.

Hopes that, for the second half, they might have redressed the problems, with which they had presented themselves, soared, when they went ahead through the first of Ken Sio’s brace, but Leigh had a strategy which they stuck to with the utmost rigour.  They had been in similar positions in the past, and had learned from those; this time no-one was going to be let off the hook.

In all Leigh slotted over five penalty goals, one in the first half, and the ten points accrued, proved, in the end, to be the difference between the sides.

Ryan Lannon was unfortunate not to ground the ball to the referee’s satisfaction. Former Salford players, Liam Hood and Adam Sidlow, went through to put the home side well ahead, although Salford had the final say with Sio’s second, after the hooter had sounded.

With the remaining games coming thick and fast, it is important that the players quickly consign this one to the bin, and take what they have learned from it into Thursday’s visit from Catalans.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v HUDDERSFIELD

There are few teams with whom Salford have been as evenly matched, season after season in the Super League era, as Huddersfield.  True there have been periods when first Salford, and then later, Huddersfield have had their periods of ascendency, but in the more recent of years there has been virtually nothing to choose between the two of them, with their invariably winning one match each, remarkably, in their away fixtures.

Bearing that in mind, and also the fact that the Red Devils had already come out on top at the John Smith’s Stadium back in June, and with their rivals having shown some rather more impressive form of late, we might have all been of the mind-set, going into the game, that the Giants could prove too strong, on the night. A resilient performance however from Marshall’s men, ensured Salford made it three Super League wins in a row against the Giants.

Not only that, but the manner in which they pulled this off was quite commendable, in a match which turned out to be an arm wrestle from start to finish.  So much of their victory was down to their uncompromising defence, as there were two periods, of ten to fifteen minutes, when they were penned in their own half, having to withstand, and repel, onslaught after onslaught of Huddersfield attacks.

The first came early in the proceedings, when a penalty to the visitors for a high tackle put them in a great field position, where they proceeded to enjoy five, almost continuous, back-to-back sets of six, which ended with them taking a two-point lead, courtesy of a penalty for offside, at a play-the-ball.

It was of interest to note the number of penalties, from which Huddersfield took a shot at goal, rather than running the ball, giving them a total of six points – the equivalent of a converted try.  They must have assessed, from recent matches, that there would be sufficient of these to lay the foundation to their winning the game.  In the event this did not prove to be the case, with, thankfully, the Red Devils being a little more frugal in this respect, than in the previous two matches.

The second period came with a lengthy endeavour from the Giants to get back on level terms, and then possibly steal the game with a drop goal.  Nail-biting as this spell was, it has to be said that the Salford players rose to the challenge superbly, and they never seemed to be hanging on by a thread; that is, until four minutes from the end.

During both these prolonged periods of pressure, Salford had had great reason to be thankful to left winger Joe Burgess, who had dealt with every tricky, end-of-set kick towards his edge with great aplomb, using his height to outleap any challenging Giant, and pluck the ball out of the air before any damage could be done.

Four minutes from time, however, that gratitude turned into indebtedness, when his opposite number headed with ball in hand for the corner.  Not to be outdone, however, five metres from the line, Burgess caught him from behind, and despite being dragged along the ground from the momentum which had been built up, succeeded in halting all progress completely with the ball coming loose before it could be grounded, in what must have been the tackle of the match.

With ball in hand, Salford once again showed the degree of control and understanding with one another in each passage of play, showing incredible patience in the first half when this brought field position and applied pressure, but without reward, points-wise.  That however did not last for ever;  just thirty-six minutes to be precise.  There have been other matches this season when length of the field tries down the right flank have, from the opposition’s mistakes, turned the game in their favour.

This time, it was not Ken Sio who was there to sprint the length of the field but Rhys Williams who did every bit as well.  Nor was it the first time that Krisnan Inu has been the one who intercepted the pass to set up his winger with this race downfield to score.  The beauty of interception tries is that for the opposition it is a ‘double whammy’ because, as on this occasion, they are often within touching distance of a try for themselves, whilst the dent to their confidence takes some little time to overcome.

Even worse, from their point of view, was to succumb to not just one, but a pair of tries, either side of the interval, the second of which came on 42 mins, when Tui Lolohea showed how well he is settling into the fullback role, by timing his insertion into the Red Devils’ attacking line so that he could cut through for a typical fullback’s try, to put Salford ahead for the first time.

That lead had to be recouped fifteen minutes later, after Huddersfield had knocked over two penalty goals to restore their two-point advantage, but what a well-worked try it was, with Andy Ackers drilling the ball into the in-goal area from dummy half, and Jack Ormondroyd showing an exceptional turn of pace for a prop, to ground the ball behind the posts, before it ran dead.

A further six points were available shortly after, when Danny Addy broke through before handing on to Lolohea. Unfortunately, Tui’s pass to Chris Atkin was, surprisingly, called as forward, so the chance was lost.  Had it resulted in a try it is distinctly possible that Salford would have gone on to score a couple of others, on the back of it.  As it was, they were required to return to the high level of defence they had shown earlier which, with Burgess’s final involvement, secured them the win.

It is only fitting that such a gruelling, hard fought, battle should be won in the name of the magnificent Lee Mossop, whose contribution to the development of the club in recent years cannot be overstated.  He has led the team out, at Old Trafford in the 2019 Grand Final, and then at Wembley in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final – two finals for which Salfordians had waited fifty years, to witness.

His contribution on the field has been there for all to see, but his influence off the field has been equally as great.  I, for one, am more than grateful to Lee for his consideration, kindness, and support, which I have received, throughout the time he has been with us, as indeed, I am sure, is everyone else who has had the pleasure and privilege of working with, or playing alongside, him.

We can only now thank him for all he has done for Salford Red Devils, wish him all the very best in the future, and be pleased that the players whom he has led all season, were able to give him, and the rest of us, this victory, in his honour.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WIGAN v SALFORD

With a two-week gap since their last outing, Salford Red Devils will probably have been glad just to get back to their task of playing a game once again, with this their first return to the DW Stadium, since that magnificent victory over Wigan Warriors in the semi-final of the 2019 play-offs.

Certainly, that appeared to be the case, as they settled into their game in the first half, producing a well organised and challenging opposition to the home side, from the outset, and although the Warriors had a greater proportion of possession, and the better field position in the very early stages, the Red Devils soaked up the pressure, limiting their hosts to a solitary, unconverted try in the right corner, from winger Halsall, on twelve minutes.

From that point, the visitors took control, showing all the positive elements of their defence and attack which had been in evidence, at Leeds, a fortnight ago.  In particular, it was a joy to watch the Salford forwards making such good inroads into the opposition’s defensive line, often turning a difficult start to the set, close to their own line, and finishing it with a kick from within the Wigan half, which, with a good chase, completely turned the tables on the Warriors, leaving them to struggle to get away from their line.

From all the work and endeavour came the reward of points on the board, the first of which came with Joe Burgess’s crossing in the corner, in his first league game against his former club, after good handling through six pairs of hands.

One aspect of their attack which did seem to need some further attention, however, was their ability to score from close range.  On a number of occasions, the Reds got within five or ten metres of Wigan’s try line, only to lose possession early in the tackle count, and that failure to turn position into further points was to cost them dearly as the game proceeded.

Nevertheless, they were able to leave the field at halftime with a two-point lead, courtesy of Harvey Livett’s last minute penalty goal, which compensated for his missed conversion attempt earlier, and enthusiasm for a second victory on Wigan soil must have begun to grow among the Salford faithful.

Sadly, this time the Reds had merely flattered to deceive, as they failed to live up to the expectations they had placed upon themselves in the first half.  In retrospect, it may appear to be that Wigan simply upped their game, and that Salford were unable to compete with them, thereafter.

That, however, would be an over-simplification of events, particularly at the start of the half.  Yes, Wigan did become rather more mobile in defence, and increased their line-speed to try to apply greater pressure, but possibly more importantly, the Red Devils fell away from the good things which they had produced to such fine effect in the first forty.

Errors with ball in hand started to become more evident, providing the Warriors a much more unequal level of possession, and an almost constant foothold in the Salford half, all of which led them to drift away from the game plan, with players trying to fix things in their own way, thereby causing at least a little confusion among the rest of the team.

Most discouragingly, the discipline, which they had shown throughout the opening stanza, deserted them, and the penalty count started to rack up against them, not, thankfully, compounded by dissent this time, for they left Lee Mossop to carry out his role, as captain, of seeking clarification from the referee, on certain decisions.  Poor execution and judgement were the main causes, especially once Jackson Hastings was moved to half back bringing a new dimension to Wigan’s attack, and the Warriors were only too eager to keep their score increasing, by slotting over three kickable attempts.

Although no longer classed as a penalty, infringements at the ruck are still punished by set restarts, the extra tackles from which add quite significantly to the fatigue and pressure on teams, particularly when the restart comes on the final tackle of a set, as happened on three occasions in that second period.  With so much turning against them it has to be said that the Salford defence did exceedingly well to keep their line intact until twenty-seven minutes after the restart, when John Bateman successfully squeezed through.

Most, on Friday evening, will have felt an over-riding feeling of disappointment that having done so much to put themselves in such a good position, the team fell away somewhat in the second half.  That in itself is an extremely strong indicator of the considerable progress the club and the team have made in recent years.