Category: Rugby

The Qualifiers in Focus | Toulouse Olympique

In our final edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we look at French outfit Toulouse Olympique and preview our concluding fixture in the seven-game competition. 
Toulouse Olympique are slightly different to most ‘franchises’, the simple fact being that they aren’t historically one. The club were formed in 1935 and are steeped in history within the French game. Toulouse were originally invited to play in the Championship (then National League One) by the RFL in 2009. Because this was during the infamous licensing period, there would be no direct route to Super League for Toulouse until 2012.
Olympique lasted just three seasons in the Championship and at the end of the 2011 season, they announced their intention to return to the Elite One Championship in France.
After securing their sixth French title in 2015, the Blagnac-based side announced it would be returning to the RFL system – in League 1 – a year later. Though the club lost the League 1 promotion final to Rochdale Hornets, they wouldn’t be denied promotion to the Championship when they triumphed over Barrow Raiders 32-22, before picking up the Championship Shield – with a 44-14 victory over Sheffield Eagles – a year later.
Season so far
This season, Toulouse have lost six games, they continue to improve year after year having finished 5th last season and only points difference has prevented them from finishing second in the table this time around.
No-one can deny that Toulouse play an exciting brand of Rugby, the Blues starred at this year’s Summer Bash to throttle London Broncos 40-28 and have been one of the trailblazers in revitalising the second-tier this term. However, could their expansive style prove to be their biggest downfall?
Both Toulouse and Toronto Wolfpack were invited to participate in this year’s Magic Weekend, in a bid to promote the game on a global scale and advertise the fine talents currently on display in the Championship.
Although the French outfit did commendably score 30 points, they left themselves a little short in defence as a result of their ‘all-out attack’ mindset and consequently conceded 43 points.
In recent weeks, Toulouse also suffered a disappointing 19-14 defeat at Halifax – no team above 6th placed Leigh Centurions have conceded more points than Toulouse in the Championship this season.
Having said that, they have scored an astounding 900 points of their own – a figure beaten only by London Broncos who have 907.
Sylvain Houles has led the Olympique to yet another stunning campaign and with talent such as Mark Kheirallah, Tony Maurel, Stanislas Robin and Mourad Kriouache amongst their ranks, who’s to say we won’t be seeing Super League Rugby at the Stade Ernest-Argeles come the start of next season?
Coach
36-year-old Houles is now in his sixth year at the helm and has led the club to two French Championships, a Lord Derby cup, promotion to the Betfred Championship and one Championship Shield win. With such a record, Houles has developed into one of the most successful coaches within the game. At 36, the former France international has his best years ahead of him and may well develop into one of the all-time greats, should he continue his fine run and knack of winning trophies.

A sheep-farmer by day, Houles is undoubtedly one of the most committed coaches around. As per the Guardian, Eddy Pettybourne revealed former France international Houles – who enjoyed five years in England with Huddersfield, London, Dewsbury and Wakefield – wakes up at 3am every morning to work on his farm, before commuting for over an hour to travel to Toulouse’s training base.
Pettybourne also cited Houles as one of the best coaches he’s ever worked under and like so many others, has tipped him to be coaching in Super League – or possibly even the NRL – in the very near future.
Captain

34-year-old Sébastien Planas is Toulouse’s long-serving skipper. The second-rower/centre is a club stalwart, having played the entirety of his 11-year professional career with the Olympique.

Planas has struggled with his injuries throughout this spell, but is still nearing 200 appearances for the club. He was also included in France’s 2008 world cup squad.

Despite being sidelined for large parts of the first-half of this season, the veteran hasn’t showed any signs of hanging up his boots just yet, after scoring during Toulouse’s 44-18 demolition of Dewsbury Rams last month.

One to watch
In the last edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we looked Kieran Dixon’s influence within the London Broncos’ attacking plays, here we take a look at another highly-rated back-rower – Toulouse full-back Mark Kheirallah.
Despite being born in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, Australia, 28-year-old Kheirallah has played the vast majority of his seven-year career in Toulouse.
After playing a solitary game for NRL’s Sydney Roosters in 2011, the full-back moved to Toulouse ahead of the 2012 campaign and hasn’t looked back since.


He is capable of filling the void at both full-back or in the halves and is equally as devastating in either role. Kheirallah is a broad figure who is strong in defence, but also possesses breathtaking pace and power which has seen his develop into a deadly finisher.
The France international – after qualifying on residency – has a knack of stepping up in big games and was the star of the show at this year’s Summer Bash at Bloomfield Road in Blackpool.
If Salford are to triumph over the French, it is crucial that the Red Devils backline nullify the numerous threats Kheirallah alone poses.
When’s the game?
Salford host Toulouse in their final game of the Qualifiers at the AJ Bell Stadium, which is currently scheduled for Sunday 30th September with a kick-off time of 3pm but is subject to change.
Ticket details will be revealed in due course. 

Ian Watson | “We need to show our steel”

The memory of the last time that the Salford Red Devils travelled to Hull KR, in a Qualifiers match, two years ago, must be surely etched in the memory of every one of our fans as it was, of course, in the Million Pound Game.
When the players make their first return visit, in this competition on Friday there will be a number of those players who were involved on that day for whom the memory will be even more stark than our own personal ones as Head Coach Ian Watson readily acknowledges.
Watson said: “Games like that will always be there in the back of your memory, especially with that match having so much meaning to it, and, especially after the game itself having seen the fall out from it with people losing their jobs alongside other consequences. The emotions around all that ensure that those experiences stay with you for the rest of your life.
“So will they for players like Sean Lunt who not only was involved in the actual game but also witnessed and experienced first hand the after effects from the defeat.
“At least on this occasion it is not another Million Pound Game it’s more like a ‘mini-league’ game, which will probably enable everyone to put their thoughts to the back of their minds and as professionals we will approach it as a really serious contest.
“No-one wants to get off to a poor start by losing early games because that could lead directly to involvement in this year’s Million Pound Game but at the moment both sides will all be treating it as nothing more than a really tough match.”
“I always think it’s a good place to go to, though some players find it really intimidating. It is the sort of place that you should want to play in with the extremely loud crowd getting on your back. These things should actually spur you on by you turning them into positive elements.
“You know before you arrive exactly what you are going to get from the spectators on the terraces but out there on the pitch it is just your team against theirs and you should be keen and eager to get out there and challenge yourself.”
It is only a few weeks since the Red Devils last made the trip to KCOM Craven Park and Salford will be looking to avenge a disappointing defeat.
“It was the fact that we failed to show the necessary resilience after their second try from one of our kicks, that ultimately led to our problems, because up to that point we had been playing really well. We need to correct that and show that we have a bit of steel about us and can grind out a win away from home.
“What we learned from that game is that we have to have that attitude and mentality which determines that we will stick to our guns as a team – no matter what. What we don’t want is people doing their own thing to try and fix things up rather than doing so as a team because that just does not work.”
There are a number of former Salford Red Devils colleagues, including former Director of Rugby Tim Sheens, now installed in similar roles at KCOM Craven Park.
“It’s not a bad thing from our point of view because having worked alongside him for twelve months I have got to know the sort of things he will be thinking both ahead of the game and during it but it will be the players who will determine the outcome on the day.
“As coaches we here will be doing our jobs during the week and hopefully we will have prepared the team to go to Hull KR and get the victory.”
Within our ranks for the encounter, will undoubtedly be new recruit, Jackson Hastings, who made such an incredible impact in his Betfred Super League debut against Leeds.
Watson said: “The really pleasing thing is that he has come in and lifted everybody’s spirits with his enthusiasm and confidence. We have also seen that he is a genuine footballer who can read the play and so bring us that control which we have struggled to get all year.
“It would have been great to have been able to get him earlier but now that he is here we are looking forward to seeing what sort of on-field relationships he can strike up with the players around him. He provides leadership, and the forwards are going to listen to someone who is organising things around them, and they will fit into what is needed to be done.
“Rob Lui, on the back of that, stepped up to a different level and I thought he was the best player on the field that night. Hopefully a little bit of the pressure will be taken off him now.
Joey Lussick has also arrived in recent weeks and could be set to debut against Hull Kingston Rovers on Friday evening.
“Jackson and Joey have played together before and we have spent some time working with them and fullback Niall Evalds to help them build a thorough understanding throughout them all.”
 
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Squad | Ian Watson names 19-man for Qualifiers opener

Head Coach Ian Watson has named his squad for our Qualifiers opener against Hull Kingston Rovers at KCOM Craven Park this Friday, 8pm kick-off.
New signing Joey Lussick is in line to make his Salford Red Devils debut following his arrival at the AJ Bell Stadium just under a fortnight ago.
Fellow Australian acquisition Jackson Hastings retains his place in the squad despite leaving the field early in his impressive debut against Leeds Rhinos in our final Betfred Super League game of the regular season.
Following a short stint on the sidelines, Kris Welham returns to the Red Devils 19-man squad to face his former club while Craig Kopczak may also feature.
Gavin Bennion and Levy Nzoungou are the two changes from the squad named to take on Leeds Rhinos a fortnight ago.
Jack Littlejohn, Logan Tomkins, George Griffin, Luke Burgess and Kriss Brining remain sidelined.
The full squad is as follows:
Kris Welham, Junior Sa’u, Niall Evalds, Robert Lui, Craig Kopczak, Josh Jones, Mark Flanagan, Lama Tasi, Ryan Lannon, Tyrone McCarthy, Ben Nakubuwai, Josh Wood, Derrell Olpherts, Lee Mossop, Jake Bibby, Daniel Murray, Ed Chamberlain, Jackson Hastings, Joey Lussick.
 
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The Qualifiers in Focus | London Broncos

As the Qualifiers continue to close in more by the day, in this edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we take an in-depth look at London Broncos and summarise an encouraging 2018 for the capital-based side. 
Season so far
Following the club’s relegation from the Betfred Super League in 2014, some argued that the experimentation of a London-based Rugby League franchise had well and truly ran its course. However, fast forward four years and the London Broncos have re-established themselves as a club with both a bright future and unbounded potential.
Their prosperous stadium move from Barnet FC’s ‘The Hive’ to Ealing Trailfinders’ Trailfinders Sports Ground in 2016 has ran parallel to success on the pitch.
2017 saw the club finish as Runners up in the Betfred Championship to Hull Kingston Rovers, only to miss out on promotion to the top flight after a miserable showing in the Qualifiers. This season however, there is much more of a positive vibe surrounding the club.
Head Coach Danny Ward has led the club to a successive second-placed finish in the second-tier. The Broncos have endured a memorable campaign, only to be pipped by runaway league leaders Toronto Wolfpack. In a season ruled by twists and turns, London have stood themselves well against top opposition. Despite finishing level on points with both Toulouse Olympique and Halifax, Ward’s men can be proud of what they’ve achieved this term and will head into the Qualifiers full of confidence.
They also boast try-scoring talents such as Elliot Kear, Rhys Williams, Jarrod Sammut and Kieran Dixon amongst their ranks. If these sort of players reach their potential throughout this year’s Qualifiers, then London will take some stopping.
Coach
Whilst he never appeared for the club in its current form, Head Coach Danny Ward has a deep affiliation with the London Broncos. The now retired prop-forward played for the club in its former glory as Harlequins. Ward – who also represented Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers, Hull KR and Great Britain during his career – made over 100 appearances during his three year spell at the Twickenham Stoop.

Upon retiring, Ward initially coached the Broncos’ U19s squad for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons, before being promoted to Assistant First-Team Coach in 2017. After previous Head Coach Andrew Henderson left London to commence a new career as Steve Price’s Assistant at Warrington Wolves last summer, Ward was appointed as his successor.
The 38-year-old has done a stellar job in his first season as a senior coach and has led the club to a second-placed finish in the Championship table. Alongside Halifax’s Richard Marshall, he is considered one of the most promising coaches outside of the top flight.
Captain
28-year-old Jay Pitts currently captains the side, former Bradford Bulls forward Pitts has racked up over 200 career appearances and is an integral part of the Broncos side. The loose-forward/second-rower has also featured for Wakefield Trinity, Leeds, Hull FC and Bradford and brings a wealth of experience to the fold.

Pitts – who joined the club on a two-year-deal following the Bulls’ liquidation in 2017 – has a handy offload in his locker and is heavily involved in his side’s attacking plays, though he is also more than capable in defence too. Salford’s defence will have to be on top form if Pitts is to endure a quiet afternoon when the two sides lock horns next month.
One to watch
In the last edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we looked at a player with a deep connection to Salford Red Devils – Chester Butler. This time however, we analyse hometown hero Kieran Dixon’s influence on his side’s successes.
After bursting onto the scene in 2012, Dixon has forged a firm reputation as one of the game’s most highly-rated back-rowers outside of Super League. The 25-year-old has enjoyed two glorious spells with his hometown Broncos – the first of which earned him a move to Hull Kingston Rovers in 2015.


With sheer pace, a handy kicking game and a knack of scoring outstanding tries, Dixon is undoubtedly the most explosive player within the London camp. The winger notched a try and four conversions during the Broncos’ resounding 72-6 win at Barrow last time out and if he maintains this sort of form throughout the Qualifiers, Salford’s defence could potentially be in store for a long afternoon.
When’s the game?
Salford are currently scheduled the capital on Sunday, 23rd September. The game will currently take place at the Trailfinders Sports Ground – the home of Rugby Union outfit Ealing Trailfinders – with a kick-off time at 3pm. However, this is subject to change.
Ticket and travel details will be released in due course.

The Qualifiers in Focus | Leeds Rhinos

Following the recent Qualifiers fixture release, Salford discovered that they will face Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, Halifax RLFC, Toronto Wolfpack, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. Here we take an in-depth look at the last year’s Betfred Super League winners who now find themselves in the Qualifiers – Leeds Rhinos.
Season so far
On the back of a hugely successful 2017 season which saw Leeds Rhinos pick up their eighth Betfred Super League crown, defeating Castleford Tigers 24-6 in the Grand Final at Old Trafford, Leeds have struggled in 2018 and now see themselves back in The Qualifiers for the second time in three season.
Wins against Warrington Wolves and Hull KR ensured that they started the 2018 season well but a loss to Widnes Vikings ended February on a sour note. March started with hard fought victories over Hull FC and St Helens before falling 25-24 to Castleford Tigers despite a spirited resurgence coming back from a 24-point deficit, this unfortunately proved to not be enough on a day when a late Kallum Watkins conversion attempt drifted agonisingly close to sealing an impressive comeback for Leeds.
April followed a very similar trend to past months, early victories over Wakefield Trinity and Salford however were followed by defeats to Wigan Warriors and Hull FC, before a second victory of the season against KR.
This victory was followed by one of the worst runs in Leeds’ recent memory, seven consecutive Betfred Super League losses against the likes of Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, St Helens and two losses to Catalan Dragons.
This run of form lead to the dismissal of Head Coach Brian McDermott after six years and eight honours. The replacement for McDermott was the coaching team of James Lowes and Kevin Sinfield who would take the roles of Head Coach and Leeds’ first ever Director of Rugby, respectively.
Since Sinfield’s appointment Leeds have won just one outing – a 34-0 thrashing of bottom placed Widnes Vikings. This coupled with a 42-10 defeat at the hands of Castleford Tigers, a 38-22 loss to Salford, avenging the reverse fixture, and a 20-20 draw versus Wakefield Trinity meant Leeds would enter the Qualifiers, placed a disappointing ninth in the Betfred Super League.
Director of Rugby
Leeds Rhinos First Team Coach is former Bradford Bulls hooker James Lowes. Lowes won two Betfred Super League titles during his time at the Bulls. Lowes has spent time coaching since his retirement from the game in 2003, including spells in the backroom staff at Salford, Warrington Wolves and England. He was also first team coach at Warrington and Bradford Bulls prior to his current spell in charge of Leeds.

Overseeing Lowes is the new Director of Rugby, Leeds Rhinos’ legendary captain Kevin Sinfield. Sinfield made over 500 appearances throughout a glittering career with Leeds where he was a seven-time Betfred Super League winner as well as earning two Ladbrokes Challenge Cup crowns.
Sinfield proved a highly popular appointment last month when he re-joined the Club and will be looking to keep the Rhinos in the Betfred Super League.
Captain
27-year-old England regular Kallum Watkins is the Rhinos current captain. However, Watkins suffered a nasty anterior cruciate ligament injury in Leeds’ defeat to Castleford Tigers in May, ruling him out for around eight months.
In his absence Leeds have several experienced players they could call on to try to replace the leadership void left in Watkins’ stead. The man they are likely to look to though is 25-year-old prop forward Brad Singleton. Singleton has captained Leeds a few times since Watkins was ruled out, including this past weekend in their 48-12 loss to Warrington Wolves in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
Singleton has been at Leeds for his entire career, making his debut in 2011 against Salford in a 48-12 win. Since then he spent spells out on loan at Dewsbury Rams, Wakefield Trinity and Hunslet Hawks. Since his time away Singleton returned to Leeds and became a regular for the Betfred Super League side, playing a major part in their treble winning side of 2015.
If Leeds are to put an end to their slump they will sorely need payers like Brad Singleton to stand up to the pressure.
One to watch
28-year-old scrum half Richie Myler started his career with hometown side Widnes Vikings, making just two fleeting appearances before making the short move across to Salford. Myler had a successful spell with the club. In his first season he scored an impressive 25 tries in 32 matches helping the Red Devils to the 2008 National League One title, earning himself the opportunity to play in the Betfred Super League for the first time the following season as well as gaining the Co-Operative Player of the Year award.
Ahead of the 2010 Super League season Richie Myler found himself on the move again, this time to Warrington Wolves for £200,000, a record for a teenager in the Rugby League.

His spell at the Halliwell Jones stadium can be regarded as a lucrative one. Myler quickly found himself one of the league’s best halfbacks. In his seven years he scored an impressive 77 tries in 139 games. He did miss out on the 2010 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final due to injury but made up for it by helping his Warrington side beat Leeds Rhinos in the 2012 final.
Myler left Warrington following the 2015 season, joining Catalan Dragons where he spent two years, his new side would go on to win the 2017 Million Pound Game to retain their place in the Super League. A few months later he would be on the move again, this time to Leeds Rhinos where he’s enjoyed an entertaining first season despite sides struggles. Myler has scored four tries and leads the Betfred Super League in try assists with 23 in 19 games.
It is this creativity which will make Myler Leeds’ dangerman throughout The Qualifiers.
When’s the game
Salford will make the trip to the Emerald Headingley Stadium on Friday 14th September with kick off time at 7:45pm.
Ticket details and coach travel will be released in due course.
 
Written by Matt Tandy.

The Qualifiers in Focus | Toronto Wolfpack 

Following the recent Qualifiers fixture release, Salford discovered that they will face Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, Halifax RLFC, Toronto Wolfpack, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. Here we take an in-depth look at the first-ever professional transatlantic sports team – Toronto Wolfpack. 
Season so far 
2018, much like 2017, proved to be a highly successful campaign for Toronto Wolfpack. Toronto enjoyed a prodigious first Betfred Championship season, winning 20 of their 23 games including highly impressive showings in a 32-12 win over London Broncos and a 42-10 dismantling of fellow top four contenders Halifax. This run of form went on to lead the Canadian side to a second consecutive title.
Following an off-season of many comings and goings the Wolfpack started the season with an impressive result over Leigh Centurions. Going down to a 12-0 deficit, Toronto, thanks to a hat-trick from Liam Kay, scored 34 unanswered points to send hotly tipped Leigh packing.
Toronto remained unbeaten until a fourth round 47-16 humbling at the hands of fellow championship rivals London Broncos left them reeling. The next few months saw great success for the Canadians, note worthy victories against the likes of Toulouse Olympique and a 52-12 dismantling of Swinton Lions, their highest scoring game so far kept the momentum going.
Betfred Super League side Warrington Wolves prematurely ended Toronto’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup run in May with a 66-10 result. Bouncing back from this disappointment, the Wolfpack remained unbeaten for months. Edging Leigh Centurions in a 28-26 game at the Summer Bash was followed up by a resounding 32-12 victory of London Broncos.
A comprehensive 68-4 victory over Sheffield Eagles continued the Wolfpacks 16-game unbeaten run to hand them their first Betfred Championship title with braces from Chase Stanley and Adam Higson helping the Canadians to yet another heavy win across the pond. However, Toronto did lose their perfect home record since their formation with a 12-30 defeat against Featherstone Rovers at Lamport Stadium in the final round of Betfred Championship fixtures.
Coach
Toronto are led by Paul Rowley with the 43-year-old joining the Canadian club as their inaugural Head Coach in 2016 after leaving fellow Betfred Super League side Leigh Centurions.
The former England hooker started his career at Leigh Centurions before going on to appear in the Super League with Halifax and Huddersfield Giants between 1994-2001. Rowley returned to Leigh for the final four years of his career where he helped his hometown team win the National League One title in 2004. Rowley won four caps for England whilst at Halifax.
After retirement Rowley joined Leigh’s coaching staff before being appointed permanent First Team Coach in January 2012 after a successful first season at the helm, guiding the Leythers to second in the Betfred Championship.
On the back of his first season, Rowley led Leigh to back-to-back Betfred Championship titles in 2014 and 2015 before resigning as Leigh Head Coach prior to the 2016 season. Later that year Rowley was announced as the Head Coach of Toronto Wolfpack where he’s overseen great success so far, winning the Betfred League One title in 2017 and the Betfred Championship title this season.
Captain
Toronto’s current Captain is Australian halfback Josh McCrone. McCrone was handed the captaincy following the exit of Craig Hall. 31 year-old McCrone ended his nine-year spell in the NRL in his native Australia when he signed for Toronto from St George Illawarra Dragons in September 2017.

If Toronto wish to stake their claim for a place in the Betfred Super League for the first time next season the Canadian side will need some of McCrone’s leadership, creativity and experience to help get them over the line.
One to watch 
Dynamic halfback Ryan Bierley broke through at Leigh Centurions in 2012. He finished as Leigh’s top try scorer for four consecutive seasons between 2012 and 2015, coinciding with the clubs back-to-back Betfred Championship titles in 2014 and 2015.
After scoring a double against Bradford Bulls in February 2016, Brierley overtook Neil Turley to become Leigh’s fifth top try-scorer of all time with 133 in 125 games.

Following this achievement and years of quality performances in the Betfred Championship, Brierley was given an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream when he joined super league team Huddersfield. However, despite scoring 15 tries in his 25 games, including a memorable hat-trick from fullback in a losing effort at Wigan, his time at the Giants came to an end.
A surprise move to Toronto Wolfpack and a chance to reunite with Paul Rowley, his coach at Leigh, quickly came to fruition. Arriving for an undisclosed fee, Brierley scored an impressive 13 tries in his first 12 games during the club’s League One promotion winning season. He followed that up with 12 tries in his 23 games this year.
Brierley is a player blessed with devastating speed but it’s his ability to read the game and find himself in the right place at the right time that sets him apart from his teammates.
When’s the game 
Salford will welcome their trans-continental visitors to the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday 8th September with kick off set to be at 3:15pm. The game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Ticket details will be released in due course. 
 
Written by Matt Tandy.

The Qualifiers in Focus | Halifax RLFC

Following the recent Qualifiers fixture release, Salford discovered that they will face Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, Halifax RLFC, Toronto Wolfpack, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. Here we take an in-depth look at the first Betfred Championship side Salford will face off with in the seven-game competition – Halifax RLFC. 
Season so far
The 2018 season has been somewhat of a fairy-tale for Halifax RLFC. ‘Fax fought off household names such as Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers to claim fourth spot – and a place in the Qualifiers – in the Betfred Championship table.
Head Coach Richard Marshall has instilled a winning mentality within his troops, this is something that was on clear display during Halifax’s eye-catching 19-14 triumph over high-flying Toulouse Olympique just two weeks ago.
‘Fax – who were formerly known as Halifax Blue Sox – have enjoyed four glorious years under Marshall’s stewardship and will head into the Qualifiers with a firm sight on staking a Betfred Super League place.
It truly would be a fine achievement for the Yorkshire-side, the club operates on a far inferior budget to their rivals yet manages to consistently exceed expectations year upon year.
Despite falling to a 22-8 defeat, Halifax’s display at Warrington in last year’s Qualifiers was one of the most battling, courageous and spirited team performances in several years and this sort of effort has been echoed by ‘Fax throughout the current campaign.
Whilst ‘Fax did ultimately finish fourth, they technically finished joint-second after accumulating the same amount of points – 16 – as second-placed London Broncos and third-placed Toulouse respectively.
Although their budget is fairly limited, with the infrastructure in place – they are one of the rare clubs who fund a reserve grade – and their rapid progression, there is no reason Halifax could not forge a future for themselves as a household Super League side.
Coach
As mentioned above, the job Richard Marshall has done at the club has been nothing short of remarkable. The club’s budget is overshadowed by its counterparts and whilst they were given little chance of surviving in the division – let alone climbing out of it – but nevertheless, former Ireland forward Marshall has built something real at the MBi Shay and has restored a sense of identity and culture to one of the Northern Rugby Football Union’s founding clubs.

The 42-year-old has been widely touted as the brightest coach outside of the top flight and if he continues to enhance his already outstanding reputation, a big move will inevitably arrive sooner or later.
Captain
32-year-old Scott Murrell is the club’s captain. Stand-off Murrell arrived at the Shay in 2013 from Hull Kingston Rovers – where he had helped the Robins earn promotion to Super League in 2006. Also formerly with Leeds Rhinos and London Broncos, he has forged a respectable career for himself in the game and has earned plaudits throughout his time at Halifax. Murrell was nominated for the Kingstone Press Championship player of the year in 2015 and whilst he hasn’t quite reached the same heights since, he has enjoyed a successful season this time around and has racked up six tries and two drop goals in the process.

Murrell is currently enjoying a testimonial career with the club and recently signed a new contract to tie him down until the end of the 2019 season. He’s also began to make the transition to a future coaching career and now acts as an player/assistant coach to Marshall.
One to watch
In the last edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we looked at Krisnan Inu and his integral role within Widnes Vikings’ attacking plays, this time we focus on a player with a deep connection to Salford Red Devils – Chester Butler.
23-year-old Butler is not only one of the brightest young talents in the game, he’s also the grandson of one Salford’s greatest ever players – legendary Welsh forward Colin Dixon.
Dixon joined the Red Devils in 1968 from Halifax for a then record £15,000 fee – which would approximately be around £430,000 in today’s market – and made 418 appearances during 12 memorable years at the Willows.
Following his transfer from amateur club Siddal, Chester Butler made his first-grade debut for Halifax in 2016 but didn’t really burst onto the scene until a year later, after scoring twice during the televised 22-8 defeat Qualifiers at Warrington in August 2017.
Capable of filling the void at either centre, on the wing or at second-row, Butler followed in his grandfather’s footsteps last year when he was called up to Wales’ World Cup squad.


This season, the youngster has 10 tries to his name from 19 Championship appearances and has been widely tipped to leave Halifax at the end of the season. With a game-intelligence far beyond his age and a fierce running game, Butler is certainly one to watch out for.
When’s the game?
Salford make the trip across the Pennines on Sunday, September 2nd, with the game kicking-off at 3pm. The respective sides usually contest for the Colin Dixon Memorial Trophy – Salford won the last clash 13-6 in 2017 – but this tie promises to be a lot more interesting with what lies at stake in the long-run.
Ticket details and coach travel will be released in due course.

The Qualifiers in Focus | Widnes Vikings

Following the recent Qualifiers fixture release, Salford discovered that they will face Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, Halifax RLFC, Toronto Wolfpack, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. Here we take an in-depth look at another one of the sides the Red Devils will lock horns with – Widnes Vikings. 
Season so far
2018 has been nothing short of miserable for everyone connected with Widnes. The Vikings have struggled throughout the campaign and have conjured up three victories from their 23 fixtures this season – consequently leaving them bottom of the Betfred Super League table.
The club parted company with long-serving coach Dennis Betts in May and replaced the former Great Britain International with another capped British representative in the form of Betts’ ex-assistant – Francis Cummins. Whilst Cummins’ arrival as interim coach initially spread a level of optimism around the Select Security Stadium, the club are still yet to record their first win since beating Salford 24-16 back in March.
Salford did earn their comeuppance from the return fixture in June though, two tries from Kris Welham alongside further scores from Jake Bibby, Robert Lui and then on-loan Widnes man Greg Burke helped the Red Devils return to winning ways in emphatic fashion and secure two valuable Betfred Super League points.
As well as the round 7 triumph over Ian Watson’s side, Widnes have also beaten both Leeds Rhinos and Catalans Dragons – though that’s about as good as things have got for the Cheshire-based side.
In recent weeks the Vikings have produced several spirited showings, the 24-26 home defeat to Hull KR in particular, was a positive note for Cummins’ side. Although the hosts did ultimately succumb to defeat, the loss did spark something of a revival. Widnes battled well throughout the contest and narrowly missed out on earning a point at the very least.
The club have also boosted their Super League survival hopes with the signings of Salford club captain Weller Hauraki, prop-forward Charlie Gubb, former Salford and Leigh forward Harrison Hansen and Wakefield Trinity half-back – and Ireland international – Liam Finn.
Hauraki joined the club on-loan as part of the deal that saw duo Burke and Ed Chamberlain move to the AJ Bell Stadium in June, but the second-rower has struggled for form in Halton and will be joining Hull KR on a permanent deal at the end of the season. Forwards Gubb and Hansen meanwhile, have arrived on deals until the end of 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Finn – who is currently on-loan from Wakefield – has racked up almost 400 career appearances and has been drafted in to instil a level of leadership, experience and quality into the squad to help aid the relegation fight.
Coach
Francis Cummins joined the club in 2016, initially as an assistant coach to Dennis Betts. The 41-year-old was then appointed as interim head-coach upon Betts’ sacking in May. Cummins spent the entirety of his 12 year playing career with Leeds, a spell that saw him become the youngest player – at 17 years and 200 days – to feature in a Challenge Cup Final, lift the Challenge Cup and gain representative honours for England, Ireland, Great Britain and Yorkshire.

Just a year after retirement in 2005, the full-back became assistant coach at the Rhinos before subsequently joining Bradford Bulls in a similar role in 2010. Two years later, Cummins was rewarded with his first head coach role at Odsal but was sacked in July 2014.
If he manages to lead the Vikings to Super League survival, it could be one of the greatest stories in the modern era.
Captain
Half-back Joe Mellor and forward Chris Houston are the club’s current co-captains – though Houston is set to retire at the end of the campaign. The pair were appointed captains following Kevin Brown’s departure to fierce rivals Warrington in 2016.

27-year-old Mellor arrived at the club – initially on-loan – from Wigan in 2011 and has since become a household name at the Select Security Stadium, whilst 33-year-old Houston has spent the last three years at Widnes having previously seen the entirety of his career in Australia. Mellor is a talented figure who boasts four tries and 11 try assists this season, whilst Houston was voted the club’s players’ player and supporters’ player of the year last season.
If the Vikings are to stave the drop, the pair are likely to have a major influence on the team’s success.
One to watch
In the last edition of ‘The Qualifiers in Focus’ we looked at Adam Quinlan’s impact and fine try-scoring form for Hull Kingston Rovers this season. Here we analyse another versatile back-rower – this time in the form of Krisnan Inu.
At 31, Inu has showed zero signs of slowing down. The centre – come full-back or winger – has racked up six tries and 21 goals for Widnes throughout the year, as well as assisting a solitary effort.
Despite struggling with injuries this term, former Catalans man Inu is an integral part of the Vikings spine and is handy at centre, full-back or winger. Inu is a creative player who has a knack of unpicking opposition lines, despite it not always seeming viable.
The back-rower scored versus Salford back in March and the Red Devils back-line will have to be at their best to prevent Inu from crossing over once more.


When’s the game?
Salford welcome Widnes to the AJ Bell Stadium – in what will be the Red Devils’ first home game in the Qualifiers – on Saturday, August 18th. The game is set to kick-off at 3:15pm and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports!
Ticket details will be released in due course. 

The Qualifiers in Focus | Hull Kingston Rovers

Following the recent Qualifiers fixture release, Salford discovered that they will face Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, Halifax RLFC, Toronto Wolfpack, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos and Toulouse Olympique. Here we take a look towards the first team that stands in the way of the Red Devils’ extending their 10 year stint in the Betfred Super League – Hull Kingston Rovers. 
Season so far
The Robins have endured very much a season of two halves in many respects. Tim Sheens’ side conjured up just three wins from their opening ten games. Since then, they Yorkshire side have won a further five fixtures – and drawn once – across 13 games, averaging almost a win every other game.
In those five wins, Hull KR have triumphed over Salford, Wigan Warriors, Huddersfield Giants, Widnes Vikings and local rivals Hull FC. Last week’s victory at the KC in particular, will put the Robins in great stead heading into the Qualifiers.
Following their return to the top flight in 2017, Rovers lost a number of key players as Jamie Ellis and Jordan Abdull’s loan deals expired whilst Ben Cockayne and Mitch Clark joined York City Knights and Castleford Tigers respectively.
Former Salford Director of Rugby, Sheens, swooped to sign Danny McGuire from last year’s champions Leeds and the veteran half-back has been a standout performer throughout the year. The 35-year-old – who picked up the Harry Sutherland Trophy in last year’s Super League Grand Final – has racked up five tries and 11 try assists for KR this term. Three of his five efforts came against Salford last month. Other arrivals included the highly experienced Danny Tickle and former Red Devil Tommy Lee who have both performed well at KCOM Craven Park.
Ryan Shaw – who has been a KR player since arriving from the Bradford Bulls in 2016 – has enjoyed another impressive campaign. The versatile back-rower has notched 11 tries throughout the year and is currently the side’s top scorer.
In recent weeks, the club strengthened their connections with Salford further when Todd Carney – who left the AJ Bell Stadium in the close season – signed on a short-term deal until the end of the season to boost KR’s survival push.
Coach
Tim Sheens is one of the most infamous names associated with Rugby League. The 67-year-old Australian played as a prop-forward for the Penrith Panthers across a 12 year-spell, before enjoying an illustrious 34-year coaching career ever since – a spell that has seen him lead his country to a World Cup title and two Four Nation successes.

The man who currently occupies the KCOM Craven Park hot-seat is familiar with Salford fans, having spent 13 months at the AJ Bell Stadium from July 2015 to September 2016.
Sheens will be desperate to get one over on his old club as the Robins look to remain in Super League.
Captain
Experienced hooker Shaun Lunt is the club’s captain, the former England international has racked up over 300 career appearances and is a huge focal point of the side’s attack, as well as being a key figure of their defensive line.

Whilst the 31-year-old is undoubtedly influential, his season has been hampered with injury after suffering a knee injury in March, before facing a re-occurrence less than a month later.
Lunt made his long awaited comeback during the side’s stunning fightback at Castleford in June. Rovers trailed 24-12 but earned a point in the final ten minutes of the tie.
Whilst the former Huddersfield man’s season has been dominated by injury, he has managed to feature in five of the last six fixtures and will be hopeful of continuing this run into the Qualifiers to provide Rovers with a much needed boost.
One to watch
Adam Quinlan is one of the most underrated full-backs in the competition. The 25-year-old Australian is in the peak of his career and has shone for the Robins this season. Quinlan arrived at KCOM Craven Park from NRL outfit St. George Illawarra Dragons in 2017, but has also spent previous time in England following a brief spell with St Helens two years prior.
The full-back – who is also capable of featuring in the halves – has 10 tries and 12 try assists to his name this season and with his handy ball-handling ability and sheer pace, Quinlan is certainly one to watch out for during the Qualifiers.
After scoring during KR’s win over Salford last month, the Red Devils’ defensive line will be extremely weary of the Australian’s abilities and will do everything they can to ensure he has a quiet evening this time around.


When’s the game?
Salford make the long trip to Hull on Friday 10th August with an 8pm kick-off schedule for the clash at KCOM Craven Park. The sides will lock horns for the third time this season, the Red Devils won the first contest between the sides 36-12 back in February, but Rovers claimed their revenge with a 52-22 pummelling in July.
Ticket details and coach travel will be released in due course. 

Ian Watson | “This time we are really excited about the challenge”

With the end of the regular season a week ago, the Salford Red Devils come to the end of season split facing the challenges of the Qualifiers. For Head Coach, Ian Watson, as he takes a look ahead over the coming two months, this is a challenge he positively relishes, with the opportunities it also presents.
“Obviously we wanted to be back in the Super 8s this year, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion with our having been in something of a period of transition, both on and off the field.
“Now, though, we are really positive about the calibre of player we have available, and the start of the middle 8s marks something of a restart to our season.”
Two seasons ago, when we last featured in the Qualifiers, the players never really seemed to adjust to the competition at all, and that took its toll in the long run as the competition unfolded.
“The players who were here at that time had probably done well enough during the regular season to have been in the Super 8s, but owing to a points deduction found themselves in a position which they felt was undeserved, on their part. Then they might also have felt that they were too good to be in it, which is always fatal because that is what catches you out.
“London Broncos certainly made us pay when they came here and beat us, because our team had a mentality that they were too good for that competition. The defeat certainly woke us up and we suddenly had to start performing in the Batley game, and then the Million Pound Game.
“The players who are still with us now will know the importance of not underestimating any of the teams like London.”
It always seems to be quite evident that the Championship teams come into the tournament with a quite different level of enthusiasm for the contest, having worked all season to earn the right to be there, whilst the Super League clubs have been trying to avoid the same.
“There is also a little bit of the unknown with the Championship teams, because there isn’t the video footage of them the way there is of Super League sides. The fact that they have been desperate to achieve their place in there comes from their winning most of their games, whilst Super League teams have been losing the majority of theirs.
“For us this time, though, we are really excited about the challenge, unlike last time when there were a lot of nerves about it. We also understand fully what it is about and what to expect, and of course we have injured players coming back to swell the troops, which will also give the remainder of the team added confidence, not to mention competition for places.
“On top of that we have a couple of new boys coming in, and that will give everyone a massive lift, because it shows that the club is behind them all, and we are all going in the right direction.”
One look at the final Championship table will show a stark difference between the top and bottom halves, with Leigh in sixth position being an incredible sixteen points ahead of Batley in seventh, which would really seem to point to some easy and comfortable wins for the top sides, in over half of their fixtures, throughout the season. As a result, these teams will be relatively fresh for the rigours which lie ahead.
“There are virtually two leagues in the Championship, with the full-timers and experienced players at the top clubs, whilst for the part-timers at the lower clubs, who have been working all week, it is a big task for them to go up against these fulltime professionals.
“Halifax are an example of a club with good experienced professionals, some of whom have played Super League in the past. This goes a long way in the Championship for a club to have players of that quality and experience. They will know exactly how to handle the coming games.”