Category: Feature

Marshall – “We are confident in what we can produce this week”

Salford Red Devils head coach Richard Marshall is confident his side can pick up the win against Hull FC on Saturday but is well aware of the dangers the Black and Whites pose. 

The Red Devils face off against Brett Hodgson’s men in Round 2 of the Betfred Super League and Marshall expects a tough test on Saturday afternoon.

“I thought they were really good against Huddersfield. It looked like the individuals had really clicked already. Obviously, it’s a new coach and quite a few new players there, so they will be coming off a good performance, a good result.

“Our individuals have looked at some of the areas that we want to improve on collectively as a team. We think if we can keep hold of the ball for longer and we don’t make them errors, we’ll be able to sustain some pressure and put Hull under pressure with our kicking game.”

The head coach is also relishing a selection headache, with a 30-man squad all competing for positions.

Marshall added: “Everybody’s on their toes within our squad.

“It makes my job at bit more enviable in picking a 17 each and every week.”

With all Round 2 fixtures across the Easter Weekend dedicated to Mose Masoe, the former Hull Kingston Rovers forward who suffered a life-changing spinal injury in 2020, Marshall is proud of how the entire rugby community has come together to support the Samoan.

“That’s the beauty of our game and our sport. As a sport, our community focus and looking after each and every individual who has played the field, officiated, coached, we always have a really good affinity for that and that’s why this round will be so important.

“I think we always come together at times when players are in need and that is the beauty of our sport. We’ll certainly be supporting that, as we do with everything else that goes on in our game.”

Salford’s clash with Hull FC kicks off at 12:15pm on Saturday 3 April at the Totally Wicked Stadium and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

You can also watch the game on Our League if you purchase a Red Devils season ticket HERE.

Written by: Charlie Mulholland

Taylor all set for Hull but expects tough test

Salford Red Devils’ new number 13 Elijah Taylor is looking forward to the clash with Hull FC on Saturday but is expecting a tough battle with the Black and Whites in Round 2 of the Betfred Super League.

The New Zealand international, who joined from NRL’s Wests Tigers in December, made his Betfred Super League debut last Friday in the 29-6 defeat to St. Helens in Round 1.

However, despite the loss, Taylor was proud to make his debut for the Red Devils, which he capped with a Man of the Match performance.

Taylor said: “I’m disappointed with the result obviously. We worked extremely hard over the last 12 weeks, but it was good to play Super League.

“I have always watched it since I started my career when I was 13 years old. I used to watch it when I was a little kid and to finally play my first game was pretty cool.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Hull FC, Taylor is expecting a tough test from Brett Hodgson’s men.

“I expect another physical game, I know a lot of players who are in that squad.

“They’ll be up for the game, they came off a good win against Huddersfield. So, we’ll be doing our work during the week to hopefully get it over them this week.”

With Salford reaching two major finals in the last two years, continuing to compete for silverware is the 31-year-old’s target now as a Red Devil as well as featuring for New Zealand in this year’s World Cup.

“Playing finals footy is definitely one of the goals and playing for the Kiwis at the end of the year, that is another of my goals.

I am just going to start off with this week, work as hard as I can, train as hard as I can and play my best football for Salford.”

You can rewatch our 28-22 victory over Hull FC in 2020, our last outing against the Black and Whites, HERE by signing up to RDTV.

Image credit: Steve McCormick
Written by: Charlie Mulholland

“It won’t define our season” – Marshall on Round 1 defeat

Salford Red Devils head coach Richard Marshall is confident that his side will recover from the defeat to St. Helens in last night’s season opener. 

The Betfred Super League Round 1 clash with Saints ended 29-6 to Kristian Woolf’s men but Marshall is not worried and believes his side, which featured five new faces last night, just need a little time to gel.

Marshall said: “It’s our first competitive hit-out.

“We’re a new team. It’ll take time for us to gel and it’ll take time for us to find our combinations.

“The players are disappointed, as am I. We want to win everything – it was my first Super League game as head coach and I wanted to win it.

“We’ll review the game and we’ll learn through that but it won’t define our season losing to St. Helens.”

Despite the disappointing result, Marshall was pleased with some of what he saw defensively.

Marshall said: “I thought defensively at times we were really strong and we outmuscled them but we just couldn’t do it consistently for the 80 minutes.

“We had some really resolute defence on our line, we stopped a handful of tries.

“I think if we’d been a bit more resilient with the ball and a bit more disciplined we could have got a few more scores and made it a contest.”

Marshall was particularly impressed with Salford’s new number 13 Elijah Taylor, who had a Man of the Match performance on his Betfred Super League debut.

Image credit: Steve McCormick

“I thought Elijah Taylor was outstanding,” Marshall added.

“I thought his work rate in and around the middle and what he did with the ball was brilliant.

“In training he’s one of the most vocal, one of the most professional players we’ve got.”

You can listen to the full post-match press conference here by subscribing to RDTV.

Watkins – “We can go there and get the job done”

Salford Red Devils’ Kallum Watkins believes Salford can rise to the challenge of St Helens ahead of their Round 1 clash with the reigning champions on Friday.

The England centre, who joined his boyhood club back in September, thinks the Red Devils have every reason to be confident that they can take victory from Saints in the opening round of the Betfred Super League.

Following a promising pre-season, a strong start to the campaign will be key to fulfilling Watkins’ wider ambition to bring silverware to the AJ Bell Stadium.

Watkins said: “It is exciting, you have got to take it as a challenge.

“For us, it has been a really good pre-season and we are confident that we can go into Friday and win.

“We are going up against the champions, there is no two ways about it, they are champions for a reason, they are a quality side and they have been the best side for the past two/three years.

“We have got a good squad, we have just got to believe in ourselves as a group that we can go there and get the job done.”

Watkins, who started in the 2017 World Cup final for England, is also harbouring aspirations that he will return to the international fold and knows that delivering key performances for Salford will be crucial to that.

“I want to be consistent in my game and make sure I am preparing as best as possible,” he explained.

“In terms of recovery, there is going to be times where we are playing a few games in a short space of time.

“I want to be successful with this club, I want to win trophies and I want to build on the ambition of what they want to achieve.

“Obviously with the World Cup coming up as well and the last time I played in an England shirt was the World Cup Final.

“Injury and performance has pushed that aside over the years so that is another goal for me to go for but I have got to prove that by putting my all on the field.”

Salford Red Devils’ Betfred Super League season opener kicks off at 6pm tomorrow evening at the Emerald Headingley Stadium, live on Sky Sports and on Our League for season ticket holders.

Written by: Will Dickson

Mossop – “We’ve got a really good balance this year”

Salford Red Devils captain Lee Mossop is confident going into the new 2021 Betfred Super League season and has been impressed with what new head coach Richard Marshall has brought to the squad.

The Red Devils face a tough test against back-to-back reigning champions St Helens but go in off the back of a great pre-season following big changes at the AJ Bell Stadium over the winter.

And following the recent friendly win over Wigan Warriors, Mossop was full of praise for the new head coach in his work both on the training field and in his player dealings as well.

Mossop said: “If I am being really honest, this is probably the best squad we’ve had.

“You look at our outside backs, there are some pretty impressive players who will miss out this week just because of the competition in that position.

“I think we’ve got a really good balance this year with our squad and hopefully if we can keep people fit then we should go decent.

“I’ve been lucky enough this pre-season that I’ve done more wrestling contact than I ever have in the last five/six years so I just can’t wait to start.”

With the Rugby League World Cup on the horizon, this season is a big one for the Red Devils’ captain, as he looks to force himself back into the England squad, having been part of the team that finished third on home soil back in 2013.

“I played in the 2013 World Cup, that was probably my best season as a player, won the double with Wigan, signed an NRL contract, played in the World Cup and I had a pretty swift fall from grace” Mossop said.

“I had horrible shoulder injuries and I went from the top to the very bottom and I struggled for form for a few years.

“I feel in the last couple of seasons, I think I am playing better than when I was picked in 2013.

“I am getting to the back end of my career. I want nothing more than to get back into that international set-up and hopefully I can push for that this year.”

You can help Mossop and the team push for success in 2021 by purchasing a season ticket here.

Written by: Will Dickson

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD PT 4

                                            Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

Bill may have decided that the dispiriting events of the Christmas ‘A’ team match at Warrington was to have been his last game, but there were those who tried to talk him around to playing again.  First of these were Leigh, who invited him down to training, shortly after he had left Salford, and, initially, he was quite open to accepting their invitation.

“I said I would go down the following Wednesday, which was my one clear night, only to be told that they didn’t train on Wednesdays, so that put paid to it all.

“Then a few years later Frankie Barrow, former St Helens fullback, was involved in setting up a new amateur club, Thatto Heath, and invited me to join the committee, which I did.  We started off at Thatto Labour Club, who were sponsoring us.

“It wasn’t long before I was pulling my boots on once more and turning out for them.  Even when I was forty-two, I was still playing but the aches and pains were taking their toll by this time, so I turned all my attention to my work on the committee.  I continued with that for a few seasons, until Frank left to coach first Swinton, and then Oldham, and a new committee came in which took the club in a different direction, which led me to leave.

“Even then it wasn’t the end of things because Frank came back with plans to set up yet another club, Portico Vine, and I, and former Warrington second row forward, Brian Gregory, were appointed joint coaches, which role we took up once we had each gained our coaching qualification.

“This gave a new impetus to my involvement, and I was turning out quite regularly in the team right throughout my fifties, until, at the age of sixty-two I finished completely.

“By this time, my son, Christopher, had joined the club playing in the centre, and I then had the greatest pleasure of playing alongside him in the team, which was a really nice way to finish my rugby career.

“Christopher became a detective in the Cheshire Police and went on to play for Great Britain Police Rugby League with whom he travelled to many countries, to play for them.

“On a final note my grandson is following our love of Rugby League and has just gained a scholarship with St Helens Rugby League Club.  Who knows maybe one day he could be playing at Salford.”

Part 1 – HIS EARLY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD PT 3

                       Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES

Despite his two periods with Salford covering almost a decade, it is perhaps unsurprising that the players who most readily come to Bill’s mind are those who played alongside him during his first spell at the club.

“I can honestly say that that Salford side was the fastest team I have ever played in.  It is claimed to be a much faster game today than it was back then, but, believe me, that team would probably beat the majority of the present day sides.  They were just so fast, not just of foot but of thought too.

“Kenny Gill certainly wasn’t the most fleet of foot, but he was by far the quickest thinker.  He was doing things long before anyone else realised what was afoot.  He certainly had a great rugby brain on him.

“Chris Hesketh was lightning quick, and had a side-step to go with it.  He was also strong, and, off the field, was the most comical of people.”

A variety of hookers turned out for the Reds over a short period of only a few seasons, before moving on or finishing their career.  One such was Peter Walker.

“Peter was an extremely good hooker, who, in the days of contested scrums could rake the ball with consistency.  I knew his brother Malcolm Walker, who played for St Helens, from my time there, very well.  Sadly, Peter’s career was brought prematurely to an end when he broke his leg.

“By contrast, his understudy in the ‘A’ team was another St Helens lad, Ellis Devlin, who was equally good in the loose, and in today’s game would have revelled in the role.  Unfortunately, the necessity to ensure a steady supply of the ball took precedence over that, and so Ellis was restricted to occasional call ups to the first team.

“Dickie Evans, my former work colleague, was another player to secure the hooking role for a couple of seasons, and it was great to link up with him again after all the years.”

Undoubtedly, of all the players in the team over that era, the absolute stalwart among them, from his teammates’ perception, appears to have been Welsh international forward, Colin Dixon, and Bill, too, has very fond memories of him.

“Colin was always someone who would talk to you.  It would be frowned upon in this present day, but back then, after training a group of us would all go for a drink and a chat together.  Colin was one of us, and it was in that environment I began to notice his dry sense of humour which was really quite funny.

“He had a pub in Halifax, and whenever we played over there we would call in, on our way back, and then Colin would take on the role of host and look after everybody.

“He actually became coach, towards the end of his career, for a brief spell, during which we played an away match, at Warrington.  For some reason, we all seemed quite lethargic during the first half, and when we got into the dressing-room he shut the door and delivered a few home truths, followed by the challenge to do something about it, which we did by turning the game around and winning.

“It was the way he had addressed the players, though, in such an adult fashion, which invoked the desire and determination within each of us, for make no mistake about it, Warrington were a really good side at that time, and to go there and win was a real achievement.”

Right winger, Keith Fielding (Quality St Gang No 6), was another person who earned Bill’s respect both on, and off, the field.

“As far as speed was concerned, though, they didn’t come any faster than Keith and once he was in the clear, there was no-one going to stop him.

“Off the field, he too was a friendly chatty bloke, who always had time for you, and he certainly knew how to tell a story.  On one occasion, while travelling to an away match, he had Eric [Prescott] and me completely bewildered by a card trick, which seemed impossible, until we found out that he was getting signals from behind us, from Dickie Evans.”

With both of them hailing from, and living in, St Helens, and also having played together at Rochdale, before signing together on the same day for Salford, it would be most surprising if John Butler had not been one of the players of whom Bill has long and numerous memories.

“When he moved from Keighley to join Rochdale, we were all quite surprised, because we already had a couple of good halfbacks, but he slotted in really well, and within six months of joining, he was selected to play for Great Britain, and went on tour with them.

“He had a really nice sidestep and was very quick over thirty or forty yards, both of which made him ideal as a centre because of course, as a stand-off – and an international one at that – his handling skills were excellent.”

Bill also recalls a couple of other three-quarters, who, in any other side would have had far more first team opportunities than they ever had alongside the star-studded Salford pack line.  Gordon Graham was a rugby union convert who was brought to the club by his former schoolteacher, who, by then, had taken over the reins as Salford coach, Les Bettinson.

Gordon, who had been signed as a centre, played on the wing just as much as he did there, but more often than not had to be content with a place on the bench, which in those days often meant that he remained there for the whole game, as was the case with fellow three-quarter, Tony Redfern, whose signature was so sought after by the whole of the league that Salford had to sign him on his sixteenth birthday.

With David Watkins successfully making the transition to fullback, ‘A’ team fullback Frank Stead, a native of Widnes, whom Bill readily brings to mind, was another player who also had to be satisfied with only occasional outings in the number one jersey.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD PT 2

                     Part 2 –HIS MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Games against lower league clubs often used to cause the high-flying Reds rather more trouble than they had anticipated, because, for the opposition this was their golden opportunity to make a name for themselves, by overturning the star-studded Salford outfit.  In addition, for some individuals, there was also the added incentive that they might be lured to the Willows with some considerably more lucrative deal than they had hitherto been enjoying.

Thus, it was, that another game in 1974, against the Hornets, this time at their then home of The Athletic Ground, yet again, saw the local side triumph with not one, but two, Rochdale players, Bill and stand off John Butler, (Quality Street Gang No 2) playing their way into the Red Devils’ sights.

“We were both called up to the Directors’ Box straight after the match, and asked to make the move to join Salford, which we were both more than happy to do, because Salford were one of the top clubs at that time.”

The time span over which Bill was with Salford somewhat exaggerated the number of seasons in which he was available as a player, because, owing to work commitments following a significant promotion, he was forced to take a break from the game after three seasons.  This, however, did not prevent his return three seasons later, when pressures at work had eased sufficiently for him to play for a further two seasons.

“I was still working in ‘Parts’, but had risen to the top by getting the job as manager, and all that went with that, so work had to come first for a few years.  I then suddenly got a phone call from Salford asking me to go back there again, which by then I was able to do.”

Back in 1974, Salford had been keen to get both players – Bill to enhance their pack, and John to allow centre David Watkins to move to fullback, upon the imminent return to Cumbria of international, Paul Charlton – while, for their part, Rochdale were in need of the money they received in exchange for the pair.

For Bill and John, with both of them being from St Helens, it was of benefit to each to have the other as company, and they travelled together to their first training session.

“I remember walking into the dressing room for my first training session and wondering to myself what on earth I was doing there, full, as it was, of internationals such as Maurice Richards, Keith Fielding, Chris Hesketh and Colin Dixon. I felt completely overawed by the whole group.

“Fortunately, Eric Prescott, was also there, and that gave it all a sense of reality.  Cliff Evans was the coach, and he was an absolute gentleman, as also were his assistants, Les Bettinson and Alan McInnes, and they were all extremely good to me, which helped me settle in almost straight away.”

Bill certainly did not have long to wait for his first game, which came at the end of that Easter Weekend, on Easter Monday, when he made a winning start to his Salford career over Leigh.

“We certainly were a team to be reckoned with, and we always made good progress and were in contention for a lot of the trophies in all competitions, but the one that everyone really wanted was the First Division Championship, which we won twice, in 1974 and 1976.

“I was in the side that was successful in 1976, and in order to win it, we had to go to Keighley in the last match of the season and beat them, because were we to have lost, and Wigan had won away at Featherstone, the title would have been Wigan’s.  Keighley, for their part, needed to win to retain their first division status, so there was a lot riding on the result for both sides.

“As it turned out, despite the confines and idiosyncrasies of the pitch at Lawkholme Lane, we won comfortably, whilst Wigan failed to overturn Featherstone, so we were crowned Champions.”

Matches against St Helens were still always the occasions which Bill particularly enjoyed and there were two which stood out above the rest.  A year after losing to them in the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final, with Rochdale, he travelled to Knowsley Rd, with Salford, to face them in the semi-final of the same competition to extract his revenge.

“I got the same reception from the crowd I had previously received with Rochdale, and again it really fired me up.  I made a break and fed the ball to Chris Hesketh to score and we won.  Unfortunately, I had broken two bones in my foot, which then prevented me from playing in the final, but nevertheless, I had still had the satisfaction of having beaten Saints, at Saints.

“Then, in 1976, after winning the Championship for the second time, we won through to the Pemiership FInal, at the magnificent stadium of Station Road, Swinton, where we once again took on the Saints again.  I always remember that Colin wasn’t in too good a condition, and I was given the task of running up and down the touchline with him, prior to the match, to see whether he could take part, which he did, though not with his normal impact.

“At half time the score was 2-0 to the Saints, and we were well in contention, but in the second half they punished a couple of our mistakes in the last quarter to extend that for a 13-2 victory.  Nice as it would have been to have won, we were nevertheless still the Champions for that season, and had done extremely well, on the back of that, to have won through to the Final.  It just didn’t go our way on the day.

“Another game I remember was an away fixture at Widnes, because, before the game, Les Bettinson took me aside and told me that, although I was playing reasonably well, he hadn’t yet seen the best from me, and this gave me such a ‘gee up’ that I went out determined to show just what I could do, and followed it through with one of my best performances.  After the game, Les came back to me and said that that was just what he had been waiting for.”

As players matured, and perhaps lost some of their initial pace, they would gravitate towards the middle of the field, so for Bill, and his co-second rower, Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No 1), a move up front to prop, was the logical progression, which both of them did at roughly the same time.  Bill’s move left room for the newly acquired Oldham and international second rower, Bob Irving, to take up the berth Bill had vacated.

Although the number of trophies the team succeeded in lifting was somewhat below the aspirations of the club itself, the quality of rugby, and the entertainment value that the players provided more than made up for that, and surpassed anything on offer from the majority of clubs.

Gaining promotion at work, at the end of three seasons, proved to be a double-edged sword, for Bill, who was in no doubt where his priorities lay, but that did not mean it was an easy move for him to turn his back, temporarily, on rugby league.

“Work had to come first but it was very difficult leaving the game behind, and during those intervening years I really did miss it, but I ensured I kept myself fit, and I did still look on myself as a Salford player, which I was because they had retained my registration.

“In fact, when circumstances allowed, I did go to the ground a few times to watch matches, especially when St Helens were playing there.  To be honest, I always felt that I would, one day, return to the club to pick up my playing career once more”.

During the time he was away there were several changes of coach, which was quite remarkable because over the whole of the previous decade there had been only three: Griff Jenkins, Cliff Evans, and Les Bettinson.

“Les’s time as coach came to an end shortly after I had put my career on hold, he was replaced by Stan McCormack, who had been a highly successful coach of St Helens over several seasons.  The appointment, however, did not work out at all, and he was replaced after only two months.

“Alex Murphy, it was, who had then taken over the reins.  Alex had been the best rugby league scrum half in the world, but things did not go as well as they had at his previous clubs Leigh and Warrington, and it all began to unravel to a degree.  Kenny Gill had already left to join Widnes followed there shortly afterwards by Eric Prescott.   Alan Grice and David Watkins had both gone to Swinton, while Colin Dixon and Chris Hesketh had both briefly had a try at coaching, but then retired from the game.

“By the time I returned, Kevin Ashcroft, was in the hot seat, but his assistant, Alan McInnes, another former Salford player, took a lot of the coaching sessions, and he was very methodical in the way he carried it out.

“All our training sessions were held at our training ground in Urmston.  Having our own training ground was quite a good thing because you were away from The Willows and the club itself, and were free to just partake in a more relaxed environment.”

As for the players who remained in the side, there were still a few, and they continued to endeavour to provide the quality of attacking rugby with which the club had been associated but it was sadly rather less effective than it had been, in terms of winning matches.

“Mike Coulman was still there, along with Steve Nash and Keith Fielding.  A recent addition to the pack had been John Mantle to the second row, but the team I returned to bore little in resemblance to the team I had left.”

There were, of course, a number of new players who had come into the side to replace those who had moved on.  Among them were people such as centres Sammy Turnbull, David Stephenson and Stewart Williams, and second rower David Major, son of former Warrington international, Harry Major.

Things very much took a turn for the worse around the Christmas period of 1983.

“It was in the week leading up to the New Year; I had a phone call informing me that there was an ‘A’ team game at Warrington, and asking whether i would I fill in to help out.  When I arrived, I walked into the dressing room and totally failed to recognise a single player, so much so that I thought I had gone into the wrong room.

“It turned out that they were all amateur players who had been drafted in.  We went out and did our best but unsurprisingly we got absolutely murdered.  Losing pay for the ‘A’ team was quite low, and this was accentuated when I went out and found I had been given a parking ticket, which more or less took care of it all.

“That proved to be my last professional game of my career, but nothing could ever, in any way tarnish the marvellous times I had throughout it, especially being a part of that wonderful team of the mid-seventies, which did so much to enhance the image of rugby league throughout the country.”

Costello all set for Saints season opener

Salford Red Devils’ Matty Costello is looking forward to coming up against his old side St. Helens, in the 2021 Betfred Super League season opener in three weeks time. 

Costello, who can play as a fullback, winger or centre, joined from Saints towards the end of 2020, linking up with head coach Richard Marshall who also arrived at the AJ Bell Stadium from St. Helens.

In what could be his first competitive game in a Salford shirt, the 22-year-old is excited to come up against some familiar faces.

Costello said: “It’ll be good playing against all my mates. I keep in touch with a lot of them.

“It’ll be good to come up against them, I’m sure they’ll give it me and I’ll give it them back.”

The 22-year-old spent plenty of time working with Richard Marshall during his time at Saints, who was assistant head coach at the Totally Wicked Stadium, and has transferred their good relationship over into the Salford camp.

“Rich worked a lot with us and he’s definitely improved my game in certain areas,” Costello said.

“We had a good relationship at Saints and it’s just the same. It’s just Rich is the main man now, the man to answer to, and I think he’s doing a really good job and the rest of the lads do as well.”

With a squad packed with talent for 2021, Costello’s main focus as we approach the start of the season is to be in and around that starting lineup.

Costello added: “I have the goal to play as many games as I can and be in around the squad to help where I can.

“Hopefully, we’ll be successful this year.”

Despite the excitement of lining up against his old side soon, Costello is looking forward to the return of fans in May the most.

“It’ll be good to play at Salford with the fans. Whenever I’ve played at the AJ Bell it’s been really loud and a tough place to go so lets keep it the same.”

In the meantime, you can watch Costello and your Red Devils in action against Wigan Warriors on Sunday 14th March in a preseason friendly, via Our League. Match day passes can be purchased here for an early bird price of £4.95.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD

Salford’s former long-serving second row forward, Bill Sheffield, relates memories of his rugby league career.

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

                                                          Part 1 – HIS EARLY CAREER

Hailing, as he does from St Helens, Bill Sheffield found it very easy to become a supporter of the Saints, on account of the fact that the very first game he ever attended was watching them play in their 13-2 Challenge Cup Final triumph over Halifax, at Wembley, in 1956.

“My father was an avid supporter of St Helens and after that first introduction to the game, I became as big a fan as he was.  I played a bit of rugby at school, but, in those days, they didn’t seem to have a lot of competitive games.”

Indeed, it was not until he left school and took up work in a local garage, that, as a result of three of his colleagues there, Frank Barrow, Dickie Evans and David Harrison, playing for the Saints, Bill started to go with them at lunchtime into the local park, for a throw about with a ball.

“It was Dickie who really encouraged me to go to St Helens, which I did, and being only sixteen, I was put into the ‘C’ team, which was for under seventeens.  I had never really played in a competitive game before, but there were some very good coaches there at that time, who gave me a lot of advice and encouragement, and so I made my way through into the ‘B’ team for under nineteens.

“We had a really successful side that year playing in four finals, two of which we won.  Twelve of the lads were actually signed by St Helens. Not all of them made it through to the first team, but people like Alan Bishop, Joe Robinson and Les Jones all became top-flight players.

“We used to train twice a week in the evenings because of course we all had jobs, with the games being played on the Saturday afternoon.  That was the case for almost every club, and it wasn’t until I came to Salford that I first  experienced Friday night rugby.

“I spent two seasons continuing my progress through the ‘A’ team, and then, aged twenty, got the opportunity to make my debut in the first team.  It was the televised 1969 Champions v Cup Holders game, away at Castleford, following their Wembley victory over Salford, with St Helens having finished the season as Champions.

“I had gone with the team as travelling reserve, and not expecting to play at all, but prop, Cliff Watson, went down with a very bad migraine, which led to me being drafted into the team at second row, alongside Eric Prescott.  Part way through the second half I surprised everyone by taking the ball up and breaking through before rounding the fullback to score.”

Players’ contracts, in those days were primarily around their signing on fee, which in Bill’s case was a thousand pounds – a most substantial amount at that time – alongside weekly wage details, but, unlike today’s contracts of two to three seasons duration, players back then signed for life!  Or not, as Bill was shortly to discover.

“I was at the ground one day, part way through my first season, and was sent for by the Chairman, who informed me that Rochdale were interested in me, and that St Helens were keen on a player exchange deal involving Kelvin Earle, who had twice been on Challenge Cup winning teams, and upon leaving Saints at the end of his first stint there, had gone to Bradford where he had won yet another medal.”

Rochdale, at that time were one of the lowly sides in the league, so for Bill it was very much a case of one extreme to the other, but not always the way round that one might have expected.

“At Saints we had to provide all our own training kit, including our own boots.  I even had to share boots and running spikes with one of the other players because neither of us could afford both.  When I went to Rochdale, though we were really well looked after, with everything we needed, including new boots, being provided,”

On the field, however, things were nowhere near as good.

“We went to Hunslet for the last match of the season, where one time great, Geoff Gunney, by this time in his forties, won the man of the Match award, and we were well beaten.  Fortunately, during the close season there was a change of coach, with the renowned international centre, Frank Myler, coming in, which led in turn to the signing of a number of better quality players.

“Frank then moulded that group into a really good team, which, within a relatively short period of time, ended up in both the John Player and the BBC2 Floodlit Cup Finals, in the 1972/3 season.  So, after that initial set back, I ended up having a couple of really good years with them, and I have had a great deal of time for Rochdale, ever since.

“En route to the Floodlit Cup Final, we had to play Salford at the Willows, in the semi-final, on a rather unpleasant evening in the depth of winter.  The pitch, in those days held water quite badly and the middle even had to be covered with sand.  The Salford backs were all speedsters but on that quagmire, they couldn’t make any impression on us, and we controlled the game extremely well.

“Warren Ayres, our centre, had a superb match, and ran in two crucial tries, to take us through to the final against St Helens.  I’d played against the Saints a couple of time since leaving, but this time it was going to be in a cup final.

“Whenever you return to a former club, you always have a certain extra keenness about you to do well, but, on this occasion, it was the crowd that really got onto me as they always used to with one of their former players, and it was that which geed me up all the more so.  We didn’t win but were extremely unlucky to lose 5-2, because we had a try disallowed for an alleged knock on, but I wish we had had a video referee that afternoon to have checked it out.”