Tag: Betfred Championship

ELLIOT KEAR TO JOIN BRADFORD BULLS

Salford Red Devils’ number 19 Elliot Kear will depart for Bradford Bulls at the end of the month.

A step down to the Betfred Championship where he will be able to continue playing rugby league part-time, will allow the 32-year-old to pursue a career as a fireman, preparing himself for life outside of the sport.

The Wales captain arrived at the AJ Bell Stadium from London Broncos prior to the 2020 Betfred Super League season, along with fellow countryman Rhys Williams.

Kear helped the Red Devils reach a Betfred Challenge Cup Final in his first season and has frequently featured for Salford this year under Richard Marshall, but the head coach respects and understands Kear’s decision.

Speaking on Kear’s departure, Marshall said: “Elliot has been fantastic to work with and coach and he is a character that will certainly be missed at the club.

“As a former player, I know that rugby league is a short career and this step down to competing on a part-time basis will allow Elliot to build a future outside of the sport.

He goes with our full support and I wish him and his family all the best for the future. He will always be part of the Salford family.”

Director of Rugby and Operations Ian Blease said: “When Elliot told me he would like to take up a new role in the Fire Brigade and explained the reasons why, I completely understood.

“As a club we aim to assist our players in their life and career journey post rugby league, so our decision to allow Elliot to leave is the perfect opportunity for him to now go and build his career off the pitch as well as playing part-time rugby.

“Elliot has been an absolute pleasure to work with and he will leave with my best wishes for the future for himself and his family.”

Squad | Adam Lawton joins Rochdale Hornets on a one-month loan

Salford Red Devils can confirm that Adam Lawton has joined Betfred Championship side Rochdale Hornets on a one-month loan deal. 
Lawton joined the Red Devils ahead of pre-season after spending time away from the professional game in Australia. The back-rower broke onto the scene in 2014 with Widnes Vikings.
Director of Rugby and Operations, Ian Blease, said: “Adam has been great since joining the Club at the start of pre-season.
“We feel this short-term loan will provide Adam with a great opportunity to get some regular first team game time and further his development.”
Adam Lawton could feature in Rochdale’s upcoming fixtures against Toronto Wolfpack, Toulouse Olympique, Batley Bulldogs and Barrow Raiders.

Ian Watson | “I thought we looked quite smooth”

Salford Red Devils got 2019 off to a great start with a 54-6 victory over local rivals Swinton Lions and Head Coach Ian Watson was pleased with various aspects of his side’s performance.

On the game…

I thought it was a good performance and we did what we’ve worked on in the pre-season. We got out of our own half a little bit too easily as we got quite a few penalties on tackle three. I’d have like to see a little more of an arm-wrestle to see more of what we have worked on. But everything that was put in front of the boys they reacted really well to especially when we were making all the changes to mix it up a bit people got plenty of game time.

On adapting following the changes…

I thought we looked quite smooth even when Jackson [Hastings] and Rob [Lui] came off and we put Niall [Evalds] into the halves. We’ve done a bit of practice in training running with different combinations just in case anything happens. We know we’ve got a small squad, but we’ve got players who can play in different positions and that was on show for us against Swinton. 

On Connor Davies-Aspey’s debut…

I was really pleased for him. He’s a baby, to be fair, and I thought he did great. He made a couple of breaks and a little bit of inexperience cost him from making a try for Jansin [Turgut] but he created a nice try for Derrell [Olpherts]. I’m sure he’ll be telling everyone about nearly getting his ribs knocked out as well, but I thought it was great for a young kid to come in and do that.

On fellow triallist – Calvin Wellington…

Calvin did really well coming in at left centre. He has the ability to play on both sides and he transfers the ball really well, but he suits us with him not having a preference as to which side he plays on.

On the players who didn’t feature…

All going well they should be included next weekend against Wigan. With the game being a little different at the moment with the stop clock we wanted our middles to get decent minutes and get used to how it feels to be under the pump and play under the stop clock. That’s why we didn’t make a change in the first half and then let the middles run for a full forty in the second half, also.

On how the players handled the stop clock…

We’ve got players here who are big enough and fit enough to play long minutes if you look at the first half, we had Mark Flanagan, Lee Mossop and Gil Dudson who all did a full forty and handled it really comfortably.

On the stop clock…

It flowed a lot better today. I thought the first ten minutes went really quickly, it used to take a long time to get to the ten-minute mark in some games but today I thought the stop clock helped today and it sped the game up. My thing with it was when you’re watching a game on Sky Sports, they were finishing way beyond 10pm and the game was getting dragged out longer and longer, but I think the stop clock kind of drags that back in really rather than it being stop-start. Hopefully, it’ll make the Betfred Super League more entertaining.

On goal kicking…

No, we’ve no issues there. Ed [Chamberlain] practices religiously so we’ve not got much of a problem with that. It was fairly windy when Ed was out there kicking today. The good thing is last year I don’t think we had a single goal kicker for the majority but now we’ve got a handful of genuine goal kickers – Ed, Jackson, Rob, Joey [Lussick] and Niall likes to put a kick in every now and again. So, we’ve no worries in that department.
 
Tickets for Salford Red Devils’ next pre-season friendly are available to purchase at the Club Ticket Office, over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or online HERE. For a reminder of ticket prices, click HERE.
Salford Red Devils 2019 Season Tickets are still available to purchase from the Club Ticket Office, over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or online HERE. You can spread the cost via Direct Debit payments, for more details, click HERE.

Ian Watson | “We’re definitely excited.”

Ahead of tomorrow’s pre-season friendly against Swinton Lions, Salford Red Devils Head Coach Ian Watson gave his thoughts on a variety of topics including pre-season, his squad and this weekend’s opponents.

On getting back underway…

“We’re really excited. We’ve got through all the tough stuff in pre-season and now it’s time to get started and now it’s about what we can do on the field and seeing where we are at particularly in regard to the start of the Betfred Super League season and fine tuning those last little details. But, we’re definitely excited.”

On the fixture…

“Salford vs Swinton doesn’t happen all that often anymore so it’s always good when we get to go head-to-head. It’s going to be a great occasion at the AJ Bell Stadium and I’m hoping we see a big crowd to support the lads for the first game of 2019.”

On squad selection…

“We’ll go strong. The lads who’ve impressed in pre-season will get first shot because you get rewarded and some of the lads have really put their hands up in pre-season. Jake Bibby has come on leaps and bounds while Ed Chamberlain has been outstanding since he joined. We will give the majority of them a game, but we may hold a few back for our second pre-season game against Wigan Warriors next weekend.”

On the two triallists…

“We’ve got young Connor Davies-Aspey who is 16 years old and is from our Salford Red Devils Education Academy team. It’s a big plus for the Salford Red Devils Foundation that he has come in and trained with us and he’s done really well. We’ve decided to give him a one-month trial and maybe hand him an appearance this weekend against Swinton.
“The other triallist is Calvin Wellington who came through the ranks at St Helens and has been away playing Rugby Union. Hgot a very good background. We’ll see how he goes against Swinton.”

On a few injuries…

“Both Josh Wood and Logan Tomkins picked up injuries at the backend of last season and are still recovering.
“Josh Wood has been in full-time training with the squad, but he needs to up his contact a little more before we can give him a game. He’s a little behind schedule for where we need him to be but in the next month, we’ll start to get him where we need him to be.
“Logan Tomkins has missed all of pre-season out on the field and his injury is just about us making sure we get him to the right stage so that he doesn’t struggle again on his return.”

On Swinton Lions…

“Swinton have rebuilt really well, and they’ve got a strong squad. Of course, they’ve signed Gavin Bennion who was with us last season, so he is going to want to have a big game and they’ve got a few other players with Salford links so it’s going to be interesting.”
Tickets for the game are still available to purchase and you can do so prior to the game from the AJ Bell Stadium Ticket Office. You can also purchase over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or by simply clicking HERE.
For a reminder of prices, click HERE.

Factfile | Salford Red Devils vs Toronto Wolfpack | Saturday 8th September

Ahead of Saturday’s massive Qualifiers clash between Salford Red Devils and Toronto Wolfpack we delve into some interesting facts behind the fixture. 
Super League vs Championship
While the teams are now competing in The Qualifiers, Salford have been in Super League throughout the 2018 season while Toronto are fighting to earn promotion from the Championship.
Salford have lost to a Championship team this season, however. The Red Devils suffered defeat at the hands of Leigh Centurions at the Leigh Sports Village in Round Five of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. However, last week’s victory over Halifax got them back to winning ways against Championship opposition.


The Wolfpack have faced Super League opposition on three previous occasions but are yet to earn a victory. They fell to the Red Devils in last year’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup before Warrington Wolves dumped them out of this season’s competition. Most recently, they suffered a narrow Qualifiers defeat to Hull Kingston Rovers at Lamport Stadium.
Home vs Away 
Salford Red Devils’ home form has been fantastic since the start of June winning three of their last four games at the AJ Bell Stadium with a big victory over Leeds in between a double over Widnes Vikings.
This weekend, Ian Watson’s side will be looking to win three consecutive home games for the first time since May 2017 when the Red Devils beat Widnes Vikings, Hull Kingston Rovers and Catalans Dragons.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BnOtjptlR1o/?taken-by=salfordreddevilsrlfc
Toronto Wolfpack will be travelling to England for the second time in this Qualifiers campaign following a Round One victory over Halifax RLFC. While a lot is made of the travel aspect of Toronto’s schedule they have actually won each of their last eight away games plus two games at a venue away from Lamport Stadium.
In fact, the Wolfpack have actually dropped more points at home than away throughout the 2018 season. Toronto drew against Barrow and lost to London on the road but are now unbeaten away from home since the beginning of March.
Try-scoring
Junior Sa’u has been in fine try-scoring form in recent weeks powering his way over for back-to-back doubles. Sa’u scored three tries in similar fashion against Widnes and Halifax before pulling off a fantastic catch to round off Salford’s scoring last week at the MBi Shay Stadium.
Both Rob Lui and Niall Evalds fantastic try-scoring runs stalled last weekend despite the Red Devils crossing for twelve scores at Halifax. Evalds has still crossed for four tries in his last four outings for Salford while Lui has scored three tries in last four outings. Jackson Hastings has also notched three tries in his opening four games in a Red Devils shirt.


The Wolfpack’s most frequent try-scorer in The Qualifiers may come as a surprise as Andrew Dixon has scored three tries in Toronto’s opening three games. They have had seven other try-scorers in The Qualifiers so far with Andy Ackers, Nick Rawsthorne, Blake Wallace, Gareth O’Brien, Josh McCrone and Mason Caton-Brown also going over.
 
Welcome the Wolfpack! 
Tickets for our next home game against Toronto Wolfpack on Saturday 8th September are available to purchase at the Club Ticket Office, over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or SAVE MONEY by buying online, just CLICK HERE.

Jackson Hastings | “We have to make sure we do our homework”

Salford Red Devils halfback Jackson Hastings appeared on the BBC’s Super League Show and spoke about his impact at the AJ Bell Stadium and the difficulty of the upcoming fixture against Toronto Wolfpack.
Hastings, sponsored by Advanced Steel and speaking on BBC’s Super League show, said: “The results we’ve had have been nothing short of amazing.
“I think I just wanted to bring a bit of control and leadership and also a bit of energy and enthusiasm in attack. Everything I do is to play quick and with a positive energy.
“The position we’ve been in as a Club and then finding ourselves in The Qualifiers you have to do everything with a positive mindset. You can’t go into games thinking I hope we win, or I hope this comes off you’ve got to be really positive in your approach.”
The Red Devils face Toronto Wolfpack on Saturday at the AJ Bell Stadium looking to make it four from four in The Qualifiers however Hastings knows how tough the game will be.
“This week’s game – apart from the first – will probably be our hardest test.
“Toronto are the Betfred Championship side who everyone thinks can really make the Betfred Super League and be competitive so if we’re off by an inch we’ll get done.
“We have to make sure we do our homework and be ready to go.”
You can watch what Jackson Hastings thought of all this weekend’s Betfred Super League and The Qualifiers fixtures by watching the show in full HERE.
 
Welcome the Wolfpack! 
Tickets for our next home game against Toronto Wolfpack on Saturday 8th September are available to purchase at the Club Ticket Office, over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or SAVE MONEY by buying online, just CLICK HERE.

Preview | Salford Red Devils vs Widnes Vikings | Saturday 18th August 2018

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.
Form
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.


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.
Head-to-Head
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.


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.
Team News
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.


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.
Squads
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
Table Permutations 
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.
Match Officials
Referee: Ben Thaler
Touch Judge: Liam Moore
Touch Judge: Richard Thompson
Video Referee: Robert Hicks

Three Talking Points | Hull Kingston Rovers 10-28 Salford Red Devils

Following last night’s enthralling victory over Hull Kingston Rovers, we take a look at the three talking points in the aftermath of the game. 
Off to a flyer
Despite pummelling Leeds Rhinos 38-22 last time out, nobody underestimated the task ahead as the Red Devils made the long journey to Humberside.
Whilst many wrote Salford off prior to kick-off, Ian Watson’s men silenced their critics with a memorable performance at KCOM Craven Park.
It was crucial that Salford started their Qualifiers campaign with a bang and they certainly did so. The Red Devils dominated the tie throughout and scores from Niall Evalds, Robert Lui, debutant Joey Lussick and Josh Wood helped clinch a deserved 10-28 victory and spark euphoric scenes in both the stand and away dressing room.


Salford undoubtedly commenced their Qualifiers campaign in the best manner possible and now head into next week’s showdown with Widnes in full confidence after securing successive victories. The Vikings meanwhile will be looking to end their 17-game winless run after dramatically losing 20-21 at home to the London Broncos on Thursday evening.
Lussick stars on debut
Australian hooker Joey Lussick – who joined the club as a free agent two weeks ago following his release from Manly Sea Eagles – made his long awaited debut in Salford colours and the 22-year-old failed to disappoint.
Not only did the former Australian RU Schoolboy cross for a well-worked maiden try, but he performed impeccably throughout. The hooker linked up well with former Manly teammate Jackson Hastings and full-back Niall Evalds in attack, whilst also adding another dimension to plays with his devastating kicking game – a rare sight for a hooker.


If last night’s showing is anything to go by, Lussick could prove to be one of the club’s most impressive acquisitions in recent times.
New spine in fine form once again 
We’ve previously touched on the influence of recent arrival Jackson Hastings linking up with Robert Lui and Niall Evalds during his dazzling debut versus Leeds, but Lussick’s introduction at KCOM Craven Park yesterday really signalled that the final piece of the jigsaw had well and truly been unearthed.
Salford demonstrated an expansive style of Rugby throughout and executed a series of quick combinations between the foursome. This newly found attacking flair has ran parallel to the arrivals of Hastings and Lussick and has seriously enhanced the Red Devils’ spine.
Hastings in particular has extracted heaps of pressure from the shoulders of Lui and has allowed the fifth-eighth to play his natural game. 28-year-old Lui was voted Man of the Match following the triumph over Leeds and excelled once again versus the Robins. Salford’s ‘star man’ provided a moment of brilliance in the 55th minute after latching onto a wayward pass from Chris Atking, before racing ninety-metres to cross for a stunning individual try.


Alongside Lui, Hastings and Lussick have also aided full-back Evalds’ game. 24-year-old Evalds suffered a broken leg in May, but after returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Salford’s marquee signings have linked up remarkably well with the former Salford academy graduate. Hastings produced an exquisite dummy to send Evalds over for the first of two tries versus the Rhinos a fortnight ago and Evalds continued his good run of form at Hull KR.
After Mark Flanagan picked up a short ball from Josh Wood, the experienced forward pierced his way through the Rovers backline before releasing the onrushing Evalds who slid over the whitewash to grab his third try in two games.

Match Report | Hull Kingston Rovers 10-28 Salford Red Devils

Salford Red Devils kickstarted their Qualifiers campaign in emphatic fashion after securing a spectacular 10-28 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers, on a drizzly evening at KCOM Craven Park.
Tries from Niall Evalds, Robert Lui, debutant Joey Lussick and Josh Wood ensured Ian Watson’s side got off to a flyer in the seven-game competition to earn two crucial points and a second-successive triumph.
Salford had a glorious chance to take the lead in the 6th minute of the half when Jackson Hastings was taken high. The Red Devils opted to kick at goal, but Ed Chamberlain’s penalty effort landed wide of the mark.
Both sides struggled to mount any real momentum in the early stages, first Junior Vaivai gifted Salford with an opportunity to score after failing to deal with Lui’s high kick, before Lee Mossop then squandered the chance from the resulting set after knocking on.
The visitors weren’t to be denied for long though, Adam Quinlan was penalised for pushing at the play-the-ball. Salford again chose to kick at goal but this time, Chamberlain comfortably slotted the ball over.
Salford frequently broke from deep throughout the half and this tactic finally paid dividends a minute later when Mark Flanagan collected a short ball from Lui, before piercing through the Rovers line and expertly releasing the onrushing Evalds to give the Reds a six-point lead.
Chamberlain was unsuccessful from the subsequent conversion and things almost worsened for Salford when James Donaldson went crashing over from dummy half. However, the forward dropped the ball at the crucial moment.
Soon after, Rovers’ efforts finally paid dividends as Junior Sa’u failed to contain Quinlan in the tackle and the full-back acted quickly to find Craig Hall in the corner with a cleverly weighted kick.
Salford responded brilliantly and were soon denied a score of their own when Jake Bibby dived over in the corner, only for the try to be chalked off following a forward pass from Chamberlain.
After the break, the Red Devils picked up where they left off when Ryan Lannon earned a penalty after being held down in the tackle. Hastings took over goal-kicking duties and comfortably added another two points to extend the margin to four points.
In what proved to be a tight affair throughout, a moment of brilliance was required for Salford to break away from the Robins and 15 minutes into the half, half-back Lui duly provided it.
After former Swinton man Chris Atkin threw a wayward pass, Lui pounced to intercept the loose ball before racing ninety metres to cross for a stunning solo effort under the posts.
Hastings added his second goal of the evening, but it was another new recruit who was to dominate the headlines this time out. Lussick – who was making his debut for the club after arriving a fortnight ago from Australia – claimed his maiden try in Salford colours after spotting a gap in the KR backline to dive over from dummy half.
Half-back Hastings then landed two more goals – the second a penalty after Evalds was pulled back off the ball – but the hosts responded with a consolation try when Shaun Lunt barged his way over from close-range.
Despite the slight resurgence from Rovers, Salford weren’t to be halted for long as Wood remarkably ducked under Nick Scruton and Ben Kavanagh, before flinging himself over the whitewash to round-off a dominant performance.
Hull KR Lineup: Quinlan; Oakes, Crooks, Vaivai, Hall; Carney, McGuire; Scruton, Lunt, Mulhern, Tickle, Tomkins, Clarkson.  
Interchanges: Greenwood, Kavanagh, Donaldson, Atkin.
Salford Lineup: Evalds; Bibby, Chamberlain, Sa’u, Olpherts; Lui, Hastings; Mossop, Wood, Murray, Jones, McCarthy, Lannon.
Interchanges: Lussick, Flanagan, Tasi, Nakubuwai.
Hull KR Scorers: Tries- Hall (32’), Lunt (73’) | Goals- Tickle (74’)
Salford Scorers: Tries- Evalds (20’), Lui (55’), Lussick 66’, Wood 78’ | Goals- Chamberlain (19’) Hastings (49’, 56’, 67’,70’, 79′)
Half-Time Score: 4-6
Man of the Match: Joey Lussick.
Referee: Robert Hicks.
 
Image Credit: Steve McCormick

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.