Monday, 16 January 2017

Hard-hitting Hornets Pack a Punch in Season Opener.

Hornets 18 - Salford 44

If you use last year’s game against Salford as a benchmark, the Red Devils are at the same point, whereas Hornets have improved a little - which is a pretty accurate summary of this pre-season contest. But there was something markedly different about Hornets’ approach in this full-blooded encounter - a whole new level of physicality. Indeed Salford struggled at times with the intensity of the contact much to the rumbling displeasure of the travelling support.

Having regained the kick-off, Hornets began on the front foot, but progress was short-lived as Salford showed their potential. The momentum of the visitors’ early pressure was paused as Murdoch-Masila was removed from the field after just three minutes with a knee injury. But, once settled, the visitors whipped up two quick-fire tries to O’Brien and Jones to take a 12-nil lead after just 7 minutes.

It didn’t augur well - but slowly Hornets climbed back on top of the game. A 13th minute Danny Yates kick fumbled by O’Brien and an immediate penalty gave Hornets a good platform deep in Salford’s half - but a hurried play the ball let them off the hook.

With Salford now shipping penalties, Hornets grew in confidence, but a Gary Middlehurst knock-on in front of the posts was another let-off.

Hornets were sparked into life on the quarter-mark when Lewis Palfrey hoisted a bomb in the direction of Salford full-back O’Brien. Lewis Galbraith hit the afterburners in pursuit and, as O’Brien gathered in the ball, Galbraith pulled the trigger on an impeccably-timed sledgehammer of a tackle that left the crowd shuddering. As the ball bounced loose, Ben Moores was on hand to gather and score under the black dot. After extensive treatment, O’Brien was removed on a stretcher, with the visiting fans braying for retribution.  I’d be surprised if he’s hit by a better timed tackle this season.

Palfrey slotted the two and Hornets were back in the game at 12-6.

Indeed, with the game locked in a fascinating arm-wrestle, Hornets produced a moment of clinical football. As Salford players continued to drop like flies, a slick interchange of passes between Jordan Case and Danny Yates sent Yatesey skittering in for what looked like a well-crafted try - only for referee Mr Roberts to somehow spot a forward pass and chalk it off.

No matter. On 26 minutes a great 80 metre set  - propelled by the perpetual motion of Ben Moores - took Hornets downfield through a retreating Salford defence, but a fumbled pass again allowed the visitors to exhale. And their response was immediate - the ball worked wide for Johnson to score by the flag. Dobson the two: 6-18. Harsh.

Just past the Half hour Mr Roberts pulled Jo Taira out of a pretty ordinary tackle on Krasniqi to wave a yellow card at him (no idea what for). Krasniqi slow to get up.

Salford capitalised on the extra man: Sa’u - sporting what appears to be a Limahl tribute wig - crashing through  a stretched 12-man defence to score. Dobson on target and a battling Hornets 6-24 down at the break.

Hornets began the second half with purpose. After Lewis Galbraith had planted their prize full-back, the Salford fans had been screaming for him to be given the ball so that he coud be dealt a reprisal. On 43 minutes Yatesey found him with an inch-perfect flat-ball and the nearest any defender got was watching him plant the ball under the black-dot. Nice. Palfrey the extras for 12-24.

And Hornets were in again just five minutes later - Jo Taira first to react to a kick in the in-goal after Ben Moores had driven close. Palfrey the two and a game on our hands at 18-24.

With both coaches keen to take a look at as many players as possible, the last half-hour struggled for shape and cohesion: the key difference being Salford’s full-time size and fitness. A brace of tries up the left channel gave Johnson a hat-trick; a debut try for Welham came via the same route, and a late effort from Bibby stretched the winning margin.

All up, both coaches will be happy and see things to work on in equal measure. Certainly, Ian Watson will be asking questions about his players’ durabillity - Hornets clearly winning the impact battlle.

And that’s not a bad yardstick for progress at all.

Thursday, 12 January 2017


Quids-in: Marwan Koukash shows off the calibre of players
a million quid can buy you in Super League.
It is with delight that we welcome Super League Salford to Spotland for the first of our pre-season hit-outs. If only because the Red Devils were seconds from joining Hornets in this year’s Championship - until they produced a heart-stopping smash & grab in last year’s Million Pound Game.

The Red Devils trailed 18-10 with two minutes left at the Lightstream Stadium -  but late, late tries from Niall Evalds and Greg Johnson (with the last play of the game) levelled the scores.

Gareth O'Brien's missed conversion forced extra-time, but his miracle drop goal from close to halfway, 48 seconds into extra-time, swiped the game from under Hull KR’s noses - and condemned Hornets fans to a trip to East Hull this year, instead of a nice trundle down the M60 to the AJ Bell.

Having been docked six points after an independent tribunal found the club guilty of breaching the Rugby Football League’s salary cap rules, it’s debatable whether Salford should ever have even been in the position to contest the MPG - but the tribunal found that the club had exceeded the £1.825m cap in the 2014 season. As well as the points deduction, Salford were also fined £5,000.

Needless to say, Marwan Koukash was shocked and disappointed: “I’m really shocked and very disappointed.” he told the Guardian. ”I thought we would get a fair hearing but I don’t think we’ve got that here. The outcome of it does not justify what we’ve done.”

“The allegations stem from several years ago and what the tribunal also found was that things have improved massively and there may be an issue of naivety – that’s all. We’re disappointed because six points is ridiculously unfair against a young squad. We believe the tariff is excessive.”

Speaking of which, Ian Watson’s 2017 squad looks like this:

1 Gareth O'Brien
2 Justin Carney
3 Josh Jones
4 Junior Sa'u
5 Niall Evalds
6 Robert Lui
7 Michael Dobson (c)
8 Craig Kopczak
9 Logan Tomkins
10 George Griffin
11 Ben Murdoch-Masila
12 Weller Hauraki
13 Mark Flanagan (vc)
14 Lama Tasi
15 Ryan Lannon -
16 Olsi Krasniqi
17 Adam Walne
18 Jordan Walne
19 Josh Wood
20 Kris Brinning
21 Greg Johnson
22 Kris Welham
23 Lee Mossop
24 Jake Bibby
25 Matthew Wilkinson
27 Connor Williams
28 Liam Bent

Who’s Out?
Salford released Samoan international Daniel Vidot by mutual consent halfway through his two-year contract. The 26-year-old former Brisbane Broncos winger made just 10 appearances for the Red Devils in his first season in Super League in 2016 and has gone back down-under to play for Gold Coast Titans.

Who’s In?
Back in November, Salford anounced thew signing of former England prop Lee Mossop from Wigan. Mossop still had 12 months left to run on a three-year contract, having returned from a stint in the NRL with  Parramatta. He didn’t play for Wigan in the last six weeks of the 2016 season and clearly took that as a hint.

Who’s going nowhere?
Durable former Wigan hooker Logan Tomkins was offered a one-year contract extension for 2017.
The 24-year-old younger brother of Sam and Joel Tomkins joined Salford last season on the back of  a loan spell. Tomkins appeared in all 30 Super League fixtures, plus the Qualifiers - and the Million Pound Game.

Who’s new?
Latest addition to the Salford squad came last week when they signed centre Kris Welham in the Bradford Bulls fire-sale. The 29-year-old had another year left on his deal before the Bulls tanked. Prior to Bradford he spent nine years at Hull KR Salford Head Coach (and ex-Hornet) Ian Watson is always one to recognise a silver lining: "The unfortunate situation with Bradford means we have been able to benefit with a quality addition.”

A loan again? Naturally.
Off the field Salford can exhale a bit this week after Salford City Council extended the payment holiday on a £1.5m loan.

Owner Marwan Koukash took on £3m of debt when he took over the Super League club in 2013, £1.5m of which is owed to the council. The loan is due to be paid back by 2038 as part of a  25-year repayment deal.

In August 2015, Salford Council agreed to allow Koukash to defer payments on the loan for 17 months. That has now been extended until December 2017.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News on January 10th, Salford mayor Paul Dennett said:  “As a council, it is absolutely the right thing to do to support this local asset and make sure the club grows in success into the future. Running a local club is often fraught with difficulty. The Bradford Bulls recently went into administration, and the whole town has lost out as a result.”

“That’s something we would always look to avoid in Salford. But that doesn’t mean we don’t negotiate hard to make sure we get the best value of money for our residents.”

Looks like that million pounds might come in handy.

Sunday’s game kicks off at 3pm - see you there.