By Alan Domville
We go into the Easter weekend hoping for a couple of wins that will make up for the disappointing result in the top of the table clash with St Helens last weekend.
Salford will be at The Halliwell Jones this Good Friday afternoon and we visit Hull Kingston Rovers on Easter Monday. The Red Devils and the Robins are lying in mid-table and will provide sterling opposition and we also have to face Huddersfield Giants at home on the following Sunday which all adds up to a gruelling 10 days.
Teams with strength in depth able to cope with fatigue and any injuries are best placed to cope with these demands – and Wire would appear to be at an advantage over their opponents.
Available once again for the Salford game will be Ben Westwood, having completed his suspension.
Salford are in good form, averaging more than 20 points a game, and they made progress in the Coral Challenge Cup competition on Friday sweeping aside Rochdale Hornets 76-6 in the fifth round.
In our regular season meetings in 2018 we completed the double over the Reds, winning 22-6 at the AJ Bell Stadium and 30-14 at home. Of the 51 Super League meetings since 1996 we have won 34 and we also won a home Challenge Cup tie in 2013. In three encounters that season we ran up 166 points against them.
Engineering Salford’s revival of fortunes in Super League are head coach Ian Watson, now in his fourth year with the club, and his assistant, former Wire centre Martin Gleeson. And while the Reds found themselves in the qualifiers last season they topped the group.
While working with a limited budget and attracting smaller crowds than they deserve the players signed by Salford for this season are all quality: winger Ken Sio who arrived from Newcastle Knights, Scottish international front row forward Adam Walker who had been at Wakefield and powerful prop Gil Dudson who came on board from Widnes Vikings to link up again with prop Greg Burke and winger Ed Chamberlain.
Much of Salford’s attacking power is triggered by the creativity of two former Many Sea Eagles players, Jackson Hastings (who never played in a Reds losing side after his arrival last season) and Joey Lussick who was brought in ahead of the 2018 qualifiers. Equally dangerous is another Australian half back, Robert Lui.
Full back Niall Evalds and centre Junior Sa’u never take a backward step and Kris Welham has always had good games against us, either with Hull KR or the Reds. The forwards include former Wire Tyrone McCarthy, Lee Mossop and Logan Tomkins who used to be at Wigan and the consistent Josh Jones whose career has blossomed since his move from St Helens three years ago.
Salford are no longer supported financially by Marwan Koukash but he will be cheering them on Friday – and also challenging the Wire Flyer to a race at half-time!
Among the players who have worn the colours of both teams in their careers are our full-back Stefan Ratchford and forwards Ben Murdoch-Masila and Lama Tasi while McCarthy has brought a wealth of experience to the Reds pack.
Our former captain Adrian Morley is also a proud Salfordian and among others to have appeared for both sides are Andy and Mike Gregory, Richie Myler, Gareth O’Brien, Alan Hunte, Phil Ford, Mike Wainwright and Vinnie Anderson.
Easter Monday brings us our first return game of the campaign. Hull Kingston Rovers are one of Super League’s yo-yo teams having been relegated in dramatic circumstances in 2016 in that never-to-be-forgotten Million Pound thriller against Salford and then fighting their way back via the qualifiers in 2017.
They retained their Super League status last season in the final qualifying game, defeating Widnes Vikings 30-0.
In the second game of this season we triumphed on Humberside 28-14 with tries for Harvey Livett (2), Tom Lineham, Josh Charnley and Mike Cooper and five goals for Ratchford.
Both league encounters between the sides last season were high-scoring. We won both matches – by 40-26 at home and 34-20 at Craven Park. Jack Hughes scored two tries in the game at the HJ and Ratchford and Cooper touched down in both. Ben Currie also scored a try in the first game but sustained his season-ending knee injury a week later.
The Robins qualified for the sixth round of the Coral Challenge Cup last weekend, defeating Leigh Centurions 14-10.
Former Australian national team head coach Tim Sheens is the man at the helm for the Robins and for 2019 he brought in the versatile Kane Linnett who helped North Queensland Cowboys to NRL Grand Final success in 2015 along with two Leeds stars in German international centre Jimmy Keinhorst and prop Mitch Garbutt.
Goal kicking half back Josh Drinkwater came in from Catalans Dragons and the services of forward Ryan Lannon and centre Weller Hauraki were acquired from Salford. Hauraki and Keinhorst each spent part of last season on loan to Widnes.
Play-anywhere Danny Addy missed the whole of last season after sustaining an ACL injury and he, like Ben Currie, is now back in action and turning in great performances. The veteran Danny McGuire is enjoying his spell on Humberside after long and distinguished service at Headingley.
The side are captained by second-rower Joel Tomkins, brother of Sam and Logan.
The Robins will be facing us after a tough test in the traditional derby across the city at Hull FC and they had an outstanding win 45-26 against Leeds last month.
Former Wires Ryan Shaw and Will Dagger have settled in well on Humberside.
Great Britain tourist Bryn Knowelden played for and managed Hull Kingston Rovers in the 1950s and ex-coach John Dorahy spent part of his career at Craven Park. Winger Leroy Rivett, prop Nick Fozzard and the much-travelled Geoff Clarkson have each represented both teams.