Salford v London

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Rugby league has a new coaching superstar.
Yesterday was the first time I’d met the London Broncos coach Joe Grima, but what an impression he left! He was honest, open and it was refreshing to have a coach who, despite a defeat, was smiling away and happily chatted to the gathered press at the A.J. Bell after his defeat to Salford Red Devils without reserve.
For my money, I hope he’s still in charge when (if) the Broncos head back to the top table following this seasons relegation. You can hear his post-match comments in full below, but he had a lot more positives to take from the game than certainly I expected.
On the other side of the coin, Iestyn Harris looked like his dog had just been shot despite a ten try haul that included a pair of hatricks, one for Greg Johnson and one for Josh griffin, who scored a total of thirty points, for his side and a much improved performance after the drubbing they and the clubs fans suffered the previous week, losing 42-6 to Wakefield. After last week, Harris had said that it was not possible to perform like that in a Salford shirt and as usual, the clubs owner Dr Marwan Koukash, was very vocal on social media about his feelings.
As it was, I thought Salford looked incredible for long spells of the game, and it was only in the last quarter that London started to make headway as the week’s hard graft that Harris had put his players through after last week began to take its toll and Salford began to look laboured.
As Iestyn said himself, he feels that after a real pre-season, Salford will have all the plays in place and the fitness to go toe to toe with any other club in the league. Given the undoubted beasting that the players endured over the last week, I don’t doubt it either.
As one fan commented to me, the club have the right man, the right players and all they need now is a chance to put plays together in the off season and gain the confidence in each other as a team that they sometimes look like they are missing on the pitch.
Either way, for me, the stand out man of the entire day was Joe Grima. The game needs more personalities like him at the helm of clubs. Coaches who are not scared of telling the truth or who are looking to hide behind referee’s decisions on the back of a bad result. London, I salute your club and wish you well for the future. You have the nucleus of a good young team who looked as if they will do well in the Championship, and should make the playoffs for a top table spot in 2016. Your signings have been astute and well thought through, with no panic buying of big names to buy your way back, but solid, reliable players with experience and a good blend of youth, I think the future of Rugby League in London is looking brighter by the year.
Please don’t let Joe go though!
Smiling Joe Grima

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Heros or villains?

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Back when Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager at Manchester United, it was widely reported that there was a drinking culture rife throughout the club.

Fergie decided to put a stop to this and slowly but surely he weeded out those who were overly fond of a few pints no matter what time of day, and began to instil his own methods of discipline in the way the players trained and rested. Fergie walked into a drinking culture at United and chief culprits allegedly were fan favourites Whiteside and McGrath. It was unpopular but to cleanse the squad and prove his iron fist selling the pair was a vital early decision.  The drinking school Fergie discovered on his arrival allegedly featured Captain Marvel. Though Whiteside and McGrath were sent packing, Robson’s commitment and performances never wavered despite off-field partying. Fergie stuck by his skipper and Robbo remained a key figure.

Now, back in the late 80’s, going out and getting mullered was seen as a manly thing to do as a sportsman, even Bobby Moore advertised a visit to your local. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s very much the opposite unless you happen to be a rugby league player.

Last year’s World Cup. England, all together as a squad with high hopes of reaching the final. Gareth Hock ignoring the coach and not only going out for a drink, but taking other unnamed players with him and he lost the chance to represent his country on the biggest stage possible for the sport, and this was AFTER his rehabilitation from a two year ban after testing positive for cocaine! Another who was due to shine was Zak Hardaker, sent home for “personal reasons” only to be fined after a Leeds Rhinos club investigation and who has been back in the news for a different reason lately. Zak made a stupid comment in the heat of a TV game that was caught on camera. Who hasn’t said something stupid in the heat of the moment? Only we’re not professional sportsmen and we didn’t have a camera on us at the time. There were even people who wanted him banned for life! Now, you go and ask anyone in the LGBT community what they think and they will tell you he’s a d**k head who made a mistake.

And things have altered a lot this season. Gareth has been in sensational form for Salford and no one hears about his off field antics, which is great, but there are others who seem to think that every Monday is Mad Monday, or that it’s OK to drink drive because you’re a local hero, or try certain substances because they are offered to you on a plate for free, because of your job.

I appreciate that players need to let off steam after a game, but the advent of social media (mainly twitter) means that everyone gets to see your indiscretions as soon as you make them.

In the past week, the Cronulla Sharks have fired Todd Carney for posting a “lewd” photo of himself and Hull KR have fired Wayne Ulugia for “repeated breaches of club discipline”. He was two months into an 18 month contract, and you’re telling me the bright lights of Hull sent him off the rails?

Come on, don’t be so naïve.

Hull KR have had their fair share of players who liked a drink and then wanted to drive home, or lash out at someone after too many pints of scotch on a Sunday night just as all clubs have. I grew up in East Hull, and the rumour mill on a Monday was always alive with who drunk what or slept with another of the local bikes after having had too many, but I’m sure other clubs were just as bad, just better at either keeping out of the papers, or had fans with a little more discretion.

I really thought those days were long gone, until 2011 and Ben Cockayne. He allegedly posted the racist remark “p*** c***” on his friend’s Facebook Wall. Ben is another who has really turned a corner in both his private life and on the field. Another from the Hull stable of bad lads turned good is Paul Cooke. In October 2006, he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm following an altercation in Pozition nightclub in Hull, and then in 2008 a conviction for drink driving. Again, Paul has turned things around and is doing a great job at Doncaster, Josh Charnley, posting a nude photo of himself on what must have been a very, very cold day (Sorry Josh) was lucky. He just had people rib him about it. Another player who has spent time working in East Hull…

But why do rugby league players seem to think that it’s still OK to act like an idiot?

Todd Carney is claiming his mate’s brother lost his phone which led to “that” photo going viral and him being fired from his au$650,000 a year job. Whatever the reason for it getting out there, the fact is that players need to wise up when they are out socialising, and it’s up to the clubs who employ them to make certain that players coming through academies and those already on top contracts get taught what’s right and what’s wrong.

Journalists will always follow the story and when you’re an athlete in a sport as community centric as rugby league, you can bet your bottom dollar that any whiff of scandal will be plastered all over the news. Not to try and damage you, or your club, but to garner more views or sell more copies in a dog eat dog world. That’s just the way it is. Remember Gazza and the kebab night out with Danny Baker and Chris Evans? Just before a tournament, and he’s daft enough to be led astray, the golden boy of English Football as he was at the time.

Be it Hull, Leeds, Castleford, Wigan or Sydney, players will have to learn that there is no one who won’t sell their story or photo to a local paper if the money is right. Money talks and morals walk. I pride myself on keeping a confidence, and even as a journalist, I wouldn’t wilfully post a rumour that would hurt either a club or a player without checking all my facts first, or I risk losing the confidence of players, coaches and media mangers and then my job is pointless.

There has to be a sea change at club level as well. It’s OK having suites of people who look after your clubs media image, and who proudly claim to be a media manger, but who teaches the kids in the academy how to handle the press, or some of those players who may not be as tech savvy as others? Clubs need to act now to ensure that players and staff at all levels are not just aware of their responsibilities where social media is concerned, but also teach them how to use it properly, after all, it’s another tool in their bag to showcase themselves and connect with fans worldwide.

I’m very pleased to say that those I’ve mentioned here are the minority and they have all returned to the game reformed characters. You never hear of Jamie Peacock rolling out of a nightclub drunk, or Sonny Bill Williams lashing out at someone. Hell, Sonny is playing the next month without breaking his strict religious views as its Ramadan. He should be on the front pages of every paper for putting his body on the line like that. No food or fluids after 7am? Rather him than me…

Let’s celebrate the fact that on the whole, our superstars are actually decent, hardworking people who thrill us week in and week out with their skills, rather than focusing on the minority who give the rest a bad name.

 

 

Hats off to the RFL

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EtihadStadium


Magic weekend is over for another year. 2014 will go down as the year that the festival of Rugby League really came of age.
Day one was easily the best single day of rugby in the events history. Close fought games, full stands and great entertainment on and off the pitch. No fan could have asked for more, although it would be nice when buying food and drink if the person on the stand asked for less!
Every single game on day one was a hard fought battle for both teams involved. London almost breaking their duck for the season in a 22-24 loss to Catalan Dragons, Widnes Vikings narrowly beating the ever improving Salford Red Devils 30-24, an epic battle (again) between Hull KR and Hull FC which ended in a 38-24 Robins win and finally, the match of the day as the (according to Shaun Wane) understrength and unfancied Wigan Warriors took Leeds to task in a fantastic 18-14 victory of psychology over tactics.
The day was outstandingly well organised from start to finish. As usual, fans were in party mood, the sun was out and everyone was having a great time.
Sadly, day two was a series of mis-matches. Wakefield pussycats were left needing the RSPCA after the Castleford Tigers ripped them apart, 12-50, the Huddersfield Giants rampaged across the Etihad turf, crushing the Bradford Bulls (HA! More like calves) 54-16 before the only match of the day that looked like a 2 horse race, Warrington Wolves v St Helens, took place. Warrington looked like racing away with this, until a late surge from Saints reeled the wolves back in.
Over all, it was a real festival. The only gripes I heard were complaints about the lack of diversity in the food department. There was not one vegetarian food stall anywhere, want Kosher or Halal? Sorry mate, you’re out of luck.
As usual, the staff at the Etihad were superb. Polite, courteous and always willing to help anyone who needed it.
It really is the perfect venue for such a weekend and the RFL need a really big pat on the back for sticking with it when people didn’t see the point early on. Nigel Wood, Blake Solly et al have really put the game on the map with the Magic Weekend.
Next year, (as I write) we don’t know where it will be. Newcastle is looking favourite at the moment, despite Stevo saying it hasn’t the hotels to cope on Backchat, but Anfield has been mentioned as well.
I’m led to believe there is a window to have the event at the Etihad, but it would have to be the first weekend AFTER the football season as the week after the cranes arrive to start installing the new seats.
If that’s true, then I hope the RFL move quickly to secure the place. The Etihad is the perfect modern stadium for such an event. Outside areas with (limited) food and entertainment areas, space for sponsors to show their wares and superb transport links. I must give a mention to the staff at Metrolink who coped admirably on both days with the crowds, having a laugh with fans and helping get everyone safely on the right tram.
If we do have to leave Manchester for a year, then I hope its to somewhere with similar facilities, but either way, I’ll be getting my Magic tickets again…

Salford Red Devils v Hull KR Match report

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So May the 10th and its already looking like make or break for both Salford red devils and Hull KR. With both clubs starting tonight’s match outside of the play off places, both will be hoping to push on from this point of the season and prove they have the credentials to not only make the playoffs, but to reach the Grand Final at Old Trafford itself.
As Salford Captain Adrian Morley said in his programme notes, Salfords major problem appears to be a leaky defence, something that they have to look at as a unit and make point proof. There is very little that Dr Koukash can do once the players cross the line. Indeed it’s the players themselves who have to stand up and be counted on the field of play.
As for Hull KR, they also seem to have found a knack of dropping away in the last period of games, and even the home win against Hull FC could easily have gone away from them and been in the loss column. Craig Sandercock will want more than local bragging rights come the end of the season.
Both of these clubs are long overdue silverware, and with both going out of the challenge cup at the last round, the only hope of that this season is Old Trafford.
Neither team will want to be in the position of looking at the play offs in the 2nd tier from next season.
As it was, this game never really got going. A slender 6-10 Hull KR lead at half time did little to disguise the fact that this game was being dominated by the torrential rain that was appearing in fits and starts and led to a first forty best described as a knockonathon. Neither side looked like pulling clear nor so was it when Salford drew level after a fierce shower.
The game ran to and fro, mainly in the middle third of the park, and at 16 all with 3 minutes to go, Rangi Chase tried his luck at a drop goal from just over 40 metres out that just managed to hit the cross bar.
The man of the match was easily Junior Sa’u for the reds and although he went off injured, Travis Burns for the Robins ably bossed his troops in defence.
Rightly asking Referee Bentham what the difference was between Salford getting a penalty after a player was pushed/pulled into touch, but not giving Rovers one for a very similar offence a little later, seemed to galvanise the Rovers faithful, with one fan being ejected for attempting to get onto the field of play!
A little later when Rovers went up the other end, a Salford fan decided that his beer would be better served over the head of the referee, and was also ejected.
After the match, Craig Sandercock said that Rovers are very close to putting a big score past someone, and on todays showing, I do wonder if he saw the same game as I did. In defence, Rovers looked superb, as did Salford, but neither team looked like they were ever going to rack up a big score, be it here or anywhere else. Salford, for all Rangi Chase looks superb with ball in hand looked clueless with the line under 10 meters away.
As it is, both teams will be looking forward to the Magic Weekend and a break from the norm.
Of the two, I suspect Iestyn Harris will be the happier, mainly because he has less of an injury list than his Hull counterpart.

What is wrong with the clowns at Red Hall?

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Is a question often asked by fans of the game. It’s now a question being asked more often, and with a louder voice by the administrators and owners of the clubs as well, and not just Dr Marwan Koukash over at Salford, but in the games heartlands as well. And it’s not just Nigel Wood that has irked the men who in more cases than we would like to be reminded of keep our clubs afloat…
Recently, Hull KR chair Neil Hudgell was fined £1000 for comments made about the disciplinary panel, or more specifically, the match review panel. You can read the excellent piece on both Adam Pearson and Neil Hudgell by the Hull Daily Mail’s James Smailes in this month’s edition of Forty-20 magazine, although I notice that the RFL are consistent in their inconsistency, not fining Pearson, but fining Hudgell, but I want to ask another question of those idiots at Red Hall.

Why schedule Magic Weekend for the same date as the FA Cup final?

OK, what no one could have foreseen was that both Wigan Athletic and Hull City were in with a chance of actually making it to Wembley for the final, but what was wrong with holding it on the Bank Holiday Weekend like in 2013? Better weather, bigger crowds all means more money in the pockets of Red Hall.
If like me, you are a Hull KR fan who also follows City and happens to also have a Son who is a Wigan Athletic supporter (It’s his Mothers fault. Don’t ask!) What should I do if Wigan make it to Wembley? I can’t send him on his own. And if Hull make it, do we both go and miss the only day of Rugby that’s worth watching this year?
Someone at the RFL should have looked at the sporting calendar and realised what a huge mistake they were making. Only a moron wouldn’t realise that the sporting press would rather be in London than Manchester for the day!
Is this just a case of the RFL not actually thinking before doing, or were there other factors? Either way, as the RFL is such a secretive pain in the arse, we as fans will never know, but I bet the FA are laughing their socks off at Rugby League trying to stage one of its biggest events on the same day as the FA Cup final. And they wonder why those both within and without of the game think that Red Hall is a joke. The left hand is too ignorant to even acknowledge that the right exists where other sports and the fans are concerned. The fans are little more than revenue machines to be fleeced whenever possible.
A few years ago, I was at Headingly for a World Club Challenge game. The RFL had taken over the catering and the prices had all been raised. Why? No one was willing to say, but I was told at the time that it was nothing to do with the club.
Personally, I won’t make it to either as an old friend is being enthroned in her new church in West Kirkby that day, and I made a promise that I would be there to watch, as neither the FA nor the RFL were willing to move their games…
Trust me, I asked!

Is the honeymoon over?

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It wouldn’t be the start of a season without a crisis somewhere. Yet again, it’s Bradford Bulls. As a Hull KR fan, I know all about watching your club live on the edge of disappearing. Neil Hudgell has wrought miracles keeping the club afloat, and with a new board member John Keable putting his financial clout in to the mix, hopefully, the days of week by week worry are behind them.
Bradford just seem to lurch from one crisis to another at the moment though. After all the money the fans pumped in to save the club (twice), they are now one game away from being on zero after the six points they were docked for entering administration and looking like (two players jumping ship aside) a team with real purpose. I can’t blame those players who left. After all, they have mortgages to pay, bills will become due and good will only goes so far. All credit to Francis Cummins. He has been a rod of iron during this latest crisis.
Is it about time the RFL just allowed a club to go under? It matters not that the club is one of the oldest in the competition, it would hopefully serve as a reminder that the pot of money in our game is not as deep as we would like to either hope or believe it is. Even the “new” Sky deal only slowed down the need of a few clubs to avoid calling in the administrators if rumours are to be believed.
In an ideal world, every club would have a Mr Keable or a Dr Koukash, but life just isn’t that fair. Sometimes the herd needs to be thinned out.
If the fans got together and as was suggested by Rod Studd, either bought the club or started a new one like FC United of Manchester, who knows? If the RFL gave grass roots clubs the sort of support they need, then perhaps in the new world of promotion and relegation, we may well see either a reborn Bulls or even a Bradford Northern once again grace the top flight of the game in the UK, and challenging for honours.

Talking of Dr Koukash…
After a fantastic first forty minutes against Wakefield on day one of Super League, Salford have been brought back down to earth with a bit of a bump.
The mauling handed to them in front of their home crowd by Saint Helens prompted the charismatic owner, Dr Marwan Koukash to tell fans that the team would not play like that again. In the intervening period before last night’s Widnes game, I’ve heard people (some of whom should know better) that Brian Noble was out of top flight coaching for too long, and had become little more than a media darling with his work at Premier Sports and in the printed press.
Rubbish!
If any coach has had a close up look at modern day tactics, it’s Nobby. He attended almost as many RLWC games as were possible, and from his media eyrie, and with the access to the players and coaches he will have had, you can guarantee he was making more than a mental note of what plays were working and how they were put together.
I do believe that Salford as a team need a couple of things.
A week without a player being side-lined for a month would be nice, and any club that brings in 13 new players will take time to gel on the field of play.
I can see the owner’s frustration, and can to a great degree share it, being a season ticket holder, but I’m also a realist. You don’t become a bad coach overnight, just as you can’t build a great team overnight, especially in a sport as reliant on communication between players as ours is.
At the shirt presentation, Dr Koukash said his relationship with Brian Noble was more than the usual coach/owner one you will find in sport. I hope that Brian is given time to make this squad into the team they have the potential to become, because if not, Phil Clarke will look a right idiot backing them to win everything this season!

The Redeviloution is well underway

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With a little over a week to go before he would see the fruits from the first wave of his “Redeviloution”, Dr Marwan Koukash opened the doors of the A.J. Bell stadium to fans old and new to personally present shirts to the squad that he firmly believes are capable of finishing in the top four of Super League XIX and to show off his vision for the Salford of the future.

It was a chance for the fans to not only get up close and personal with the players, but to have a good look around the stadium, with pretty much all areas open to them, from the new gym, put in so that the squad didn’t have to travel to Leigh sports village through to the dressing rooms. Even setting foot on the hallowed turf was not forbidden!

Marwan is a man who divides opinion, and it’s something he revels in. To be fair to him, he’s made certain that Salford have probably had the lion’s share of press during the close season, be it his ideas on the salary cap, or how to move the sport in the UK forward without the perceived interference from Red Hall. One of the first things he said ahead of the shirt presentation was how he felt about undoubtedly his biggest signing, Brian Noble. When Noble said that he needed to bring in about four of five players, Marwan laughed and said in his own unique way, bloody hell mate, we need to only KEEP four or five.

When Marwan says that his relationship is not the usual one of chairman and coach, you believe him. This is a man who has fought tooth and nail to get to where he is today, and will fight just as hard for anyone in his corner as he will argue against anyone he feels is not.

As he says, a 300% increase in season ticket sales may not be as large a number as Saints, Warrington or Leeds, but he understands that the fans have had years of wait and see promises that have gone undelivered and that many will still pay on the day, and (hopefully) many more will buy once they start to see the fruits of his actions on and off the field paying dividends. He has already approached Red Hall to ask for an exemption on the cap to bring in a marquee player who he is confident will be a game changer.

He also says that on paper, there are not many better teams than Salford. Problem is, the game is played on grass and on Sunday, against Wakefield, Marwan started to see his dream become a reality.

Just…

I asked Brian Noble just before kick off if he was feeling nervous and he said he was probably more nervous than the players, but they had a job to do and were looking forward to getting it done. With that, Brian shot off to finish his pre match preparation.

As the time for kick off drew ever closer, it became clear that something special was happening at the A.J. Bell, because the press area was rammed with journalists from all forms of media. Not all of them hung about for the final whistle, but they will all have a copy of the team sheet and a souvenir programme to be able to tell their grandkids that they were there…

With all the preseason hype surrounding the club, it was no surprise to see the touchline full of photographers, TV cameras and the entire Koukash family all soaking up the atmosphere. The Red Devil parachute display team were due to arrive at 2.15pm, but were delayed in taking off from Manchester Airport by about 15 minutes, but when they did arrive (bedecked in Salford shirts!) they were greeted with cheers by the waiting crowd, who had just been told that due to crowd congestion outside the ground, kick off would be delayed by 10 minutes to allow everyone to safely get inside.

Once 3.10 arrived, the Devils and Wildcats took to the field and it was obvious that Salford were not about to let the visitors spoil the party, with Gareth Hock going over after five minutes to score his debut try for the club, easily converted by Jake Mullaney to give the Devils a 6-0 advantage.

Wakefield’s first spell of pressure culminated in a goal line drop out after eleven minutes, but that was pretty much it for the Wildcats, who seemed to be getting most of their advantages down the left hand side, where Salford looked a little shorthanded at times. It wasn’t until the twenty fifth minute, when England international Rangi Chase went over in a challenge and hurt his knee, forcing Noble into a few tactical changes that Salford really started to pile on the pressure with Harrison Hansen scoring after twenty eight minutes, again converted by Mullaney, to extend the lead to 12 nil.

Four minutes later, Andrew Dixon also went over, making it 3 unanswered tries, all converted to allow the devils an 18 point advantage at the break.

So far, so good. Brian Noble must have felt like taking the second half off! The only fly in the ointment was the man in the middle, Mr Child, who seemed to not understand the onside at the play of the ball rule meant that the players (on BOTH sides) must retreat 10 meters. To say he looked out of his depth was an understatement. The RFL needs to seriously look at the standard of refereeing in our game. Steve Ganson is now supposed to be in charge, but over the last 5 years, on average the standard of refereeing has slipped in my honest opinion.

After the break, Wakefield looked to really take the game back to Salford and break the hearts of the home crowd, who as Dr Koukash had said have had so many broken promises, he understands that they are wary of yet another promised golden dawn not becoming sunrise.

It took just five minutes for the fears of the crowd to look like coming true as Matt Ryan scored for the Wildcats, and just another four for them to go over again in the guise of Samoan international Pita Godinet, this time converted by Paul Sykes to reduce the deficit to 18-10, the Wakefield faithful really started to make their voice heard. Not to be outdone, the Salford fans found themselves in for a very nervy finish, once Ali Lauititi went over not too long after being held up over the line, a fact coach Agar disputed in the post-match press conference. To quote Richard, ‘I’ve never seen anyone stop Ali one-on-one that close to the line’. He said: ‘Well, he didn’t’.

With Sykes only managing to convert one of his chances, Agar could well rue not coming away with at least a point from the game, if not two.

As it was, Salford got their much anticipated season off to a winning, if nervy start. Coach Noble said post-match that Chase had a muscular knock and at that point it didn’t look too bad and that Junior Sau had tweaked his groin, but that they would both be hopefully fit for Salford’s next game, away to London.

One other thing from Richard Agar was his unhappiness at a four day turnabout for both Wakefield and Bradford, with them playing this Thursday in front of the Sky cameras. Given the lack of preparation he’s had with overseas players, it’s understandable to want to get some good recovery and preparation under their belt before the next match, but it appears that it’s out of both his and the RFL’s hands with Sky making the decision to show games Thursday and Friday, at least until the end of the football season…

Salford:

Mullaney (3/3 Conv), Johnson, Walton, Sa’u, Meli, Chase, Smith (MOM), Morley, Lee, Tasi, Hansen (T), Hock (T), Puletua

Replacements: Griffin, Dixon (T), McPherson, Howarth

Wakefield:

Mathers, Fox, Collis, Keinhorst, Lyne, Sykes (1/3 Conv), Godinet (T), Anderson, McShane, Smith, Lauititi (T), Kirmond, Washbrook

Replacements: Raleigh, Ryan (T), Tautai, Walshaw

Att: 7102 (Stadium record)