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

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.

 

 

Warriors (and officials) make hay in Salford

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First of all, congratulations to Wigan Warriors. They played an outstanding game of rugby league at the A.J. Bell stadium. Also well done to referee Phil Bentham. For almost five minutes, he managed to make all his own decisions. After that, every chance he got, he asked Mr Thaler to make the decision for him. Eight tries were sent upstairs… At the rate it’s going, TV games will be running to well over 90 minutes unless the RFL start to make the officials use the technology a little more judiciously than at present.
Salford on the other hand looked lethargic, fuggy and struggled to hold onto the ball for a full set from minute one. How they held Wigan at bay for the majority of the first 40 is a mystery. For coach Harris to say that he didn’t think there was a lot between the teams really is trying to put the gloss on an otherwise miserable night for fans of the Devils. Don’t get me wrong, when the team did actually get back and look out for each other, they looked defensively very strong, but the old weaknesses out wide and also down the centre were often shown up when they struggled to get back onside for their own plays of the ball. I hope it was a lack of fitness and not a lack of hunger for the game, because if it’s the latter, then Dr Koukash has wasted a sizeable chunk of his money. The usual players looked like they wanted more, Morley, Chase, Gleeson, Tasi all looked hungry from the get go, but by the end of the game, Salford looked out on their feet and it was only an unusual lack of awareness in the Wigan defence that allowed Salford to slip over to stop them from being nilled at home.
Aside from the repeated calls to the screen, this was not a night to give your average Salford fan much reason to hope. They have not now won in 7 matches and lie in 11th place in the table.
Big names do not a team make. Salford need to look at the opposition and see that their team made up of local talent, schooled with one aim, to play for the club, shirt and town is what they should be looking to emulate, rather than buying glory.
The fans deserve better. Dr Koukash promised better, in fact, it’s probably time the elephant in the room was mentioned….
Getting rid of Brian Noble was possibly the biggest single mistake made at the club this year. Nobby had just started to get them to look like they were firing on all cylinders and was asked to move sideways. Iestyn Harris is an admirable man, an honest man, who no doubt has a great future ahead of him in coaching, but to be put under the pressure that he is under from both above and on the terraces to produce results, in your first full time coaching position is nothing short of madness. I hope the Dr gives him the time needed to turn Salford into the club that they deserve to be. I also hope that they look to the surrounding area and get a decent academy up and running, and start to bring back some of the players that are currently being lost to other teams from local clubs and schools.
It’s great to see so many kids on the pitch at half time, but how many of them will want to grow up playing to a half empty stadium, just because it’s their home town club? Not many. But it’s there that the future of the club lies, not in players who are looking for a payday.
As it was, I left the ground feeling like the next home game against Bradford could be one that decides if Salford are dragged right into the relegation mire. If Wakefield and Bradford string together a couple of results, Salford could easily be looking at next season being one out of the top flight, and that would really be a blow to the faithful.

Rangi’s Return and a tale of two Cities.

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So, it had to arrive at some point.
Rangi Chase makes his long awaited comeback for the Red Devils on Sunday, funnily enough against his former club, Castleford…
He’s in for a frosty reception from the away fans this Sunday at the A.J. Bell stadium, and a heroes one from the home fans.
To say that the Devils have failed to deliver is an understatement. OK, they have had a raft of injuries to deal with, but in short spurts, they have produced the goods, just not for the full 80 that Dr Koukash would like. He’s made no bones that what he’s seen isn’t good enough, and as we all know, he’s also not afraid to fire someone if things need a change of direction.
I’m looking forward to next weeks Super League Superstars with him chatting to Angela Powers. He never holds back and (like me) is no fan of the current RFL set up where it’s jobs for the boys all round.
Aside from Chase, this game brings together two different generations of coaches. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Daryl Powell and his teams of the last 6 or so seasons, and Brian Noble has all the experience you could ask for in a coach. Who will emerge victorious?
Castleford, and not be a couple of points. I see this being a good hard encounter, but Salford will run out of steam long before Cas do, and once that happens, Cas will score for fun in the last 15 minutes. Salfords defence holds about as much water as a leaky bucket, and although Cas are no wall of steel, they are better going forward in my opinion.
Cas by 15 to 20 I think.
If your still in the mood for Rugby League after the Super League match, On Monday night the A.J Bell hosts the clash of the city’s, with the University of Manchester taking on the university of Salford.
The Annual 2 Cities challenge Sponsored by C.Erison Shopfitting sees University of Manchester take on reigning champions University of Salford kick off 7.30pm
The night kicks off with a warm up match of Salford City College taking on Winstanley College kick off 5.45pm for more information please contact a member of your college/university Rugby League team or SRD Foundation on 0161 820 2739
Tickets available to watch both games only £5
I’ll be there, cheering on Salford, as I begin my Journalism Multimedia degree there in September…Shame that my wife wont let me live in Halls for the first year, but, never mind, eh?