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

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.

The day after the game before…

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Well, if this final weekend showed fans of International Rugby League anything, it’s that if you’re not at the top of your game, you will get beaten.

After Friday night’s defeat of the French by the USA, on Saturday, England took on Italy.

And lost…

From the moment Italy arrived pitch side, they looked cool (as you’d expect in Salford for autumn) well drilled and ready for a tough game.

Once Anthony Laffranchi scored a soft early try, and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the visitors’ second must have given Steve McNamara a lot to think about ahead of facing the Australians on the 26th in Cardiff.

Even when the torrential thunder and lightning storm arrived, the Italians looked more at ease on the ball, offloading with ease and seemingly at will they often stretched the England defence and could easily have gone in at the 40 minute mark ahead of the hosts.

As it was, some uncharacteristic missed kicks from captain Sinfield allowed the score to look much better for both sets of players and fans at 14-12.

Once the second ½ was underway and the rain began to ease off, it became clear that despite the passion of the 4300 fans, neither side looked much like troubling the scoreboard until a penalty for the Azzurri in the 69th minute gave them the chance to draw level.

The game went to and fro for the next 9 minutes with knock on being the main call that referee Richard Silverwood had to make, until Josh Charnley gifted the Italians possession with just 90 seconds on the clock and allowed Mantellato a drop goal from 30 metres out which was slotted over to give the Italians a famous victory, one made all the sweeter for coach Carlo Napolitano, who was born & raised in Salford.

Magnanimous in defeat, England coach McNamara said “We’ve certainly not played anywhere near what we are capable of. That’s quite clear to see.”

“I just think our mentality was really wrong for this game. We were probably guilty of looking towards next week and we took our eye off this game. I don’t think we were fully focused. I’m glad it’s happened this week in a way rather than next week. I’m sure we will be a whole lot better for it next week.”

Steve, so do a lot of England fans. I’m certain you want the England job long term, but we need a more organised, gutsier display. OK, it was a warm up game, and you need to make certain that players like Tomkins don’t get injured, but we didn’t ever look like we were going to win.

Congratulations to the Italians. They were organised, disciplined and looked like they really wanted to beat England from minute one.

This next 4 weeks will have one or two upsets in the group stages, which makes for an interesting, if nervous, cup for everyone.

 

What a start to the season!

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There can hardly have been a better start to a season of rugby league than the one we have witnessed this year.

Anyone truly is capable of beating anyone this year in the super league it seems! Having watched my club, Hull KR, demolished in the 2nd half of their match with Salford, who were then soundly beaten by London Broncos, all whilst the “big 4” seem to also be no longer having all their own way, with Huddersfield Giants determined to lead from the front and stay there this season.

Leeds, although beaten in the World Club Challenge seem to be waiting until late August, early September before mounting an assault to win (another) grand final, but from lower than 5th place for a change of scenery. It really says something about that group of players that they can win the end of season tourney from 5th. They have exceptional players in so many areas, and in Kevin Sinfield, they have a leader on the field who is admired by those OUTSIDE of the game for what he’s done.

Lower down the table, Salford’s new owner, Dr Marwan Koukash promised after the club’s defeat to London that it would not happen again & no one’s job was safe…2 days later, Phil Vievers was consigned to Salfords history and Alan Hunte was installed as interim head coach. I was sat in the stands for that match, and have to say, I thought Salford looked very light in comparison to London. It’s not just coaching that needs to alter & I fear it could take longer to build a winning team than the good Dr is willing to wait…

Back to the smoke, and “London is a unique opportunity,” Nigel Wood told BBC London 94.9.“It is almost inconceivable to consider yourself a national sport without having a strong presence in the capital. We just have to make sure that we get that presence right.”It is probably not right as it is and we need to work with all the stakeholders to improve that.

“It is extremely important that we ‘do London’ and ‘do London’ well in terms of rugby league.”

Now, as we’ve had a London club competing against the Premier league, Football league and all the rugby union clubs, its heartening to see that the RFL still think that the future for the game in our capital is bright. Looking away from Super League, inside the M25, there are more teams than ever to go and either watch, or even play at than ever before. From Ravens wood college in Bromley all the way north to Southgate (http://www.barnetsouthgate.ac.uk) there is more to the game than the Broncos.

The season rolls ever onwards, and I’ve already got my ticket ready for the Magic Weekend at the end of May (http://bit.ly/ZpYOE9) and sales are looking as good, if not better than last years event. It really is a festival of rugby, and great to show that despite what we might think about other clubs, we will happily sit with fans from other clubs and enjoy great games, no matter which 2 clubs are playing.

Anyway, there is a lot of matches between now and then. This Friday, Leeds take on Wigan in the tie of the round.

I did ask on twitter before the start of the season if Leeds fans would swap Sinfield for Tomkins. The answer was a resounding NO! I wonder given the start that both clubs have had, if the answer will be the same AFTER Friday’s match?

Anyway, enjoy your Rugby league, who ever you support, and I’ll see you all at the Etihad over the bank holiday.