After earning their first Qualifiers victory at Hull Kingston Rovers last weekend, Salford head into this week’s showdown with Widnes knowing that another win will dramatically enhance the club’s bid to retain its top flight status.
Last Time Out
Following a memorable triumph over the Leeds Rhinos two weeks prior, Salford produced another impressive display to annihilate Hull Kingston Rovers 10-28 on their own turf.
Debutant Joey Lussick starred in his maiden outing for the Red Devils and claimed a well deserved try in the second period. The hooker’s score combined with further efforts from Niall Evalds, Robert Lui and Josh Wood ensured Ian Watson’s side got off to a flyer in the seven-game competition and earned two crucial points.
As for the visitors, Widnes have endured a miserable campaign. Francis Cummins were unable to boost their relegation fight from their opening Qualifiers tie as Betfred Championship side London Broncos came from behind to pick up a shock 20-21 victory at the Select Security Stadium.
Jarrod Sammut’s late drop-goal condemned the Vikings to their 17th successive defeat and ensured Interim Head Coach Cummins is still searching for his first win in charge, despite arriving at the club two months ago.
The two sides couldn’t have more contrasting fortunes if we’d have tried. The arrivals of Jackson Hastings and Joey Lussick have helped the Red Devils on their way to picking up two emphatic wins in as many games. The pair both scored on their respective debuts and have proved to spearhead Salford’s new look attacking spine alongside Robert Lui and Niall Evalds.
1⃣ on debut for @JackoHastings! ????
— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) July 29, 2018
Widnes meanwhile, are in a poor run of form. Cummins’ men are without a win since beating Salford 24-16 back in March. The Vikings have racked up just six points throughout the current Betfred Super League campaign – an abysmal feat for the seven time Challenge Cup winners.
The club had hoped that the recent acquisitions of Wakefield Trinity – and Ireland international half-back – Liam Finn, NRL prop forward Charlie Gubb and former Salford captain Harrison Hansen would help transform the club’s fortunes. But if last week’s defeat to the Broncos is anything to go by, the club’s fan-base is in for an inconsolable end to the season.
This week’s head-to-head sees us compare influential back-rowers Niall Evalds and Olly Ashall-Bott against each other and evaluate their roles within their respective sides.
Despite suffering a broken leg during Salford’s home defeat to Huddersfield back in May, full-back Evalds has made a miraculous recovery to become a prominent figure during the club’s Qualifiers run-in. Evalds made his long awaited return as Salford made the long journey to Perpignan to take on the Catalans Dragons last month and hasn’t looked back since.
The 24-year-old has shone since the arrivals of both Hastings and Lussick and his impact has been hailed as ‘like having a new signing’. Evalds scored a brace as the Red Devils pummelled Leeds Rhinos at the AJ Bell Stadium two weeks ago, before notching a further effort at Hull KR last weekend.
????@NEvalds1993 crosses for his third try in two games.
— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) August 10, 2018
Ashall-Bott likewise, has impressed heavily in recent weeks. The 20-year-old has made just six appearances this term but has shone during his breakthrough season with Cummins’ first-team.
The full-back come winger has been labelled as the most promising Academy Graduate to emerge out of the Select Security Stadium in recent years and has also spent time on-loan at North Wales Crusaders where the youngster effectively learnt his trade.
Ashall-Bott featured during Widnes’ loss to London and was arguably the side’s finest performer after notching his maiden try for the club.
This battle could well determine which side emerges victorious from the contest, both players are key figures and could heavily influence the outcome with their sheer pace and creative ability.
Forward Greg Burke – who joined the club on a two-year permanent deal from the Vikings this week – returns to face off with his former club following a short injury layoff. Australian duo Jackson Hastings and Joey Lussick both retain their place in the squad after impressing during the visit to KCOM Craven Park.
????️ "I'm really enjoying it here."
???? @GregBurke93 spoke to Salford Red Devils TV about joining the Club for a further two seasons as well as previewing tomorrow's massive Qualifiers fixture against Widnes Vikings.
— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) August 17, 2018
Forward Tyrone McCarthy is the only absentee in the Salford squad from last Friday’s win over the Robins. The experienced forward picked up a slight knock.
Widnes will be without new signing Charlie Gubb after the forward sustained a nasty injury during his debut last Thursday versus the Broncos. Olly Ashall-Bott retains his place after a stunning individual display, as do recent arrivals Liam Finn and Harrison Hansen. Veteran forward Chris Houston is also included in the squad and will captain the side.
Salford Red Devils: Kris Welham, Junior Sa’u, Niall Evalds, Rob Lui, Craig Kopczak, Josh Jones, Mark Flanagan, Lama Tasi, Ryan Lannon, Ben Nakubuwai, Josh Wood, Derrell Olpherts, Lee Mossop, Jake Bibby, Daniel Murray, Ed Chamberlain, Greg Burke, Jackson Hastings, Joey Lussick.
Widnes Vikings: Patrick Ah Van, Olly Ashall-Bott, Jay Chapelhow, Danny Craven, Chris Dean, Gil Dudson, Liam Finn, Alex Gerrard, Harrison Hansen,Weller Hauraki, Aaron Heremaia, Chris Houston, Krisnan Inu, MacGraff Leuluai, Joe Mellor, Tom Olbison, Charly Runciman, Lloyd White, Matt Whitley
Prior to the launch of the Qualifiers, all points tallies were reset for the competition which has given every side a chance to essentially start the season again.
After triumphing at Hull KR last time out, Salford currently occupy 2nd position in the Qualifiers table. A Salford Red Devils victory could potentially see the Red Devils lead the standings come Saturday evening.
Widnes are 5th in the table, but are essentially joint bottom. If the Vikings were to suffer a second successive defeat at the hands of Salford on Saturday, then pressure will soon begin to mount on Cummins’ men.
Referee: Ben Thaler
Touch Judge: Liam Moore
Touch Judge: Richard Thompson
Video Referee: Robert Hicks