Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Sunday's Coming - Salford Red Devils

Rugby League’s biggest soap opera - aka Salford Red Devils - rolls into town on Sunday.

Despite ex-Swinton, ex-Hornets half-back Ian Watson taking over from ousted Iestyn Harris half-way through last season, he finds himself playing Sooty to ex-Kangaroos supremo Tim Sheens’ Sweep - both twiddled puppet-style by the club’s owner and self-appointed CEO Dr Marwan Koukash.

It's twins! Koukash's 'Doctor Devil' and Sunrise's Cashcow
And, as if last season’s slow-motion car-crash wasn’t enough to make anyone rub their eyes in disbelief, it did precipitate a huge purge of personnel at the AJ Bell Stadium.

We’ve counted 15 first-team squad members jettisoned in 2015 - including former captain Harrison Hansen, Rangi Chase, Cory Paterson, Gareth Hock  and Reni Maitua - all snapped up Leigh.  Kevin Locke and Theo Fages baled mid-season and veteran enforcer Adrian Morley brought down the curtain on an impressive career. Hooker Liam Hood and prop Luke Menzies were released by mutual consent;  Lama Tasi to Saints, Scott Taylor to Hull FC and Iain Thornley to Hull KR. And, finally, Ben Jones-Bishop and Jason Walton opting to go to Wakefield for 2016. Phew!

Hence Tim Sheerns’ huge recruitment drive in the off season. In comes Robert Lui from North Queensland Cowboys, Ben Murdoch-Masila from Wests Tigers and Daniel Vidot from Brisbane Broncos. Alongside them is Matt Sarsfield from Leigh, Jordan Andrade from Oxford (yes, really) , Ex-Oldham/Swinton hooker Phil Joseph and Welsh international forward Craig Kopczak - whose surname gets you 48 at Scrabble.

Clearly still with an appetite for signing ‘controversial’ players, Salford have also signed ‘The Beast’ Justin Carney on a year-long loan deal from Castleford.

Having served five separate suspensions for foul play in his three seasons at Cas, he somehow found time to score 63 tries in 62 appearances for the Tigers. But Carney missed the last three matches of the 2015 Super League season: stood down amidst an investigation into accusations that he… er… played away… a bit… (see the full story here http://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/former-nrl-player-justin-carney-accused-of-having-affair-with-teammates-wife-stood-down-by-castleford/story-fn2mcuj6-1227517290993)

Sheens’ shopping list continues, adding Logan Tomkins from Wigan, ex-Saints’ - and ex-Hornets  - Matthew Haggarty on loan for the season, ex-Swinton stand-off Gareth O’Brien from Warrington Wolves and Oldham-born ex-Saints utility Mark Flanagan.

Most interesting to us, though, is new vice-skipper Michael Dobson who we rate as one of the best tactical kicking halves in Super League.

The Salford squad for 2016 is:

1. Niall Evalds  2. Justin Carney  3. Josh Griffin  4. Junior Sa’u  5. Daniel Vidot   6. Robert Lui  7. Michael Dobson   8. Craig Kopczak   9. Tommy Lee (C)  10. George Griffin
11. Ben Murdoch-Masila  12. Weller Hauraki  13. Mark Flanagan   14. Gareth O’Brien
15. Adam Walne   16. Olsi Krasniqi  17. Phil Joseph  18. Greg Johnson  19. Logan Tomkins  20. Jordan Walne  21. Ryan Lannon  22. Matt Sarsfield   23. Carl Forster   24. Mason Caton-Brown  25. Jake Bibby  26. Josh Wood   27. Matt Haggarty   28. Matty Gee   29. Matty Wilkinson   30. Liam Bent  31. Connor Williams  32. Jordan Andrade

Amidst such upheaval, you’d be forgiven for thinking that any stability/continuity would be welcomed - but this is Salford. For now.

Despite League fans having to explain to pretty much everyone outside Lancashire - and often within Rugby League - that Salford is actually a city in its own right, Marwan Koukash is reported to be considering overturning 143 years of sporting and social history.

Salford became a free borough in 1230, when it was granted a charter by the Earl Ranulph of Chester - predating Manchester’s charter by 70 years. Salford Rugby League club was founded in 1873 - but reports in the press suggest that the city’s somewhat blurred boundary with its Mancunian counterpart might just be about to become a little more vague. Indeed, the North Wales Leader (03 December 2015) says Koukash: has” … earmarked plans to change Salford’s name to Manchester Red Devils ahead of the 2016 campaign”

His master-plan envisages Salford playing games in Manchester and at Wrexham (home of Dual Reg. partners NW Crusaders) in an attempt to “…  start raising awareness of rugby league in this area (and)…  raising awareness of the Red Devils brand, too.”

Ultimately, speaking in the Quays News, Marwan Koukash recognises that his new look squad will be one of the youngest in Super League, with most under 25: charged with a single, simple goal to secure Salford’s Super League status for 2017. One such tyro is 21 year-old prop Matt Gee, who spent last season helping Hunslet get relegated from the Championship. Not that we’re suggesting that Super League players lead a cosseted life, but Gee found life at the bottom of the second tier “tough”. Speaking in the League Express, Gee said: “Playing in the Championship is a different game. It’s very different to Super league and with full time lads it’s even more so. The part-time lads are more happy to take your head off.” Bless.

Back in the real world, Alan Kilshaw has augmented the core of last term’s Hornets with a raft of new signings of his own. The squad for 2016 is:

1. Wayne English
2. Brad Hargreaves
3. Mike Ratu
4. Lewis Galbraith - Former St Helens and England junior: spent 2015 season in Australia with Sarina Crocodiles.
5. Dale Bloomfield
6. Paul Crook
7. Danny Yates
8. John Cookson
9. Ben Moores - former Warrington and England junior; with experience playing in South Wales and Australia.
10. Warren Thompson
11. Jordan Case
12. Jono Smith - 2nd row; formerly of Warrington Wizards and NW Crusaders. And Greggs.
13. James Tilley
14, Alex McClurg
15. Samir Tahraoui - 6 foot 7, born in Algeria: previously at Warrington, Swinton, Whitehaven, Keighley and Bradford Bulls.
16. Matty Hadden
17. Jack Francis - ex-Hopwood Hall College, Leeds Met University, Gloucester All Golds and Coventry Bears Prop.
18. Dave Cookson - Rochdale born; former Oldham player who can play both second row and centre .
19. Jo Tairia - Fijian Centre; 2014 NCL Player of the year  whilst at Rochdale Mayfield.
20. Harry Files - Salford Red Devils u19s player of the year in 2014.
21. Corey Lee - Pacy former Leigh winger who also provides cover at full-back.
22. Alex Trumper
23. James Dandy
24. Kieron Walpole - came through the academy at Leeds before signing at Bradford in 2015.
25. Stuart Biscomb - signed for Oxford last year after impressing with Normanton Knights in  NCL Division 1.

We think it’s a squad full of real potential: an interesting mix of established talent and some exciting new faces. Bring it on. See you Sunday.