Although over the years this local derby clash has seen some keen rivalry, the links between the two clubs are actually quite close with Head Coaches Stuart Littler and Ian Watson having both played for Swinton and Salford. However, this will be the first time the two men have faced each other as opposing coaches across the dugout.
LAST TIME OUT
The previous meeting between the two sides came this time three years ago in a game played in memory of Alan Henning, a local taxi driver and aid worker who lost his life in appalling circumstances in October 2014.
On that occasion Salford ran out comfortable 64-4 winners at the AJ Bell Stadium against a young Swinton side, with Rangi Chase grabbing four tries for the Reds. Winger Shaun Robinson scored the Lions’ sole consolation try midway through the second half.
THINGS TO NOTE
Swinton will be somewhat familiar with their surroundings as the club announced last week that the first team will train at the AJ Bell throughout 2018, making use of the gym facilities and on-site pitches.
The opposition have had a busy week with a change of ownership which brings the curtain down on an eventful five years with Marwan Koukash at the helm.
Step forward a consortium of Red Devils’ supporters. The club will now be run by a not-for-profit holding company, Salford RD Holdings, controlled by four board members – Andrew Rosler, Asif Latief, Hannah Fendall and Dawn Fendler, who make up the four-person board to take the Red Devils forward.
Koukash has confirmed via social media that he intends to remain ‘a devoted fan and sponsor’ to the club that he bought in September 2013.
The Lions will play Sunday’s game in a special heritage kit revealed this week. The shirts, of which only 25 have been produced for the players, will feature in the three pre-season friendlies (Salford, Whitehaven, Wigan) before being auctioned off to supporters. Alongside the special kit, a new Heritage range has been launched with several new items honoring the club’s history. Take a look now at swintonlionsshop.com.
Swinton have made 13 additions to the squad in the off-season, but Head Coach Stuart Littler has only been able to name a 18-man squad due to several minor injuries.
New signings George Tyson, Hayden Hansen, Aaron Hall, Elliot Caine, Marcus Webb, Danny Ansell, Connor Taylor and Chris Worrell could all pull on the Lions’ shirt for the first time. Meanwhile, Gabe Fell will be in line to make his second debut for the club upon his return to the Lions from Wigan. French trailist Omer Djalout is also involved in the Lions’ matchday squad.
Marquee player Matt Sarsfield, who rejoined the club in 2017, will be keen to make an impact having only featured for the Lions twice last season due to long-term injury.
New signing Jack Littlejohn will start in the halves alongside Gareth O’Brien while 2017 top try-scorer Niall Evalds will begin the game at full-back. Youngsters Josh Wood and Jake Bibby will also both start the game.
Ben Nakubuwai, Levy Nzoungou, Derrell Olpherts and Gavin Bennion will all start bench for Salford Red Devils but Head Coach Ian Watson has said that everybody named in the matchday squad will feature at some stage.
Meanwhile, suspended Ryan Lannon and Luke Burgess (injured) are the only two Salford players who don’t make the matchday squad.
LIONS SQUAD TO FACE SALFORD: Ansell, Austin, Bracek, Butt, Caine, Djalout, Fell, Hall, Hankinson, J Hansen, H Hansen, Lloyd, Sarsfield, Taylor, Tyson, Waterworth, Webb, Worrall
DEVILS SQUAD TO FACE SWINTON: (starting line-up): Evalds, Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, Bibby, O’Brien, Littlejohn, Tasi, Wood, Mossop, Jones, Hauraki, McCarthy. (Interchanges) Lui, Kopczak, Tomkins, Griffin, Flanagan, Nakubuwai, Brining, Vatuvei, Olpherts, Nzoungou, Murray, Bennion.
Head Coach Stuart Littler will begin a new era on the field for Swinton Lions this Sunday against old rivals and his former team – Salford Red Devils. Taking the reins last season with just 8 games left in the campaign, Littler steered the Lions to safety in the Championship and is raring to go in 2018.
“We’re obviously looking forward to this weekend and getting back into games. We’ll prepare thoroughly, showing players exactly what we want going forward. It’s all about getting ourselves right for that first month of the season and starting big.”
The off-season has been a busy one for Littler and the club, with no less than 13 new additions to the Lions’ squad and the Head Coach extending his stay with the club to 2019. With competition for places, Littler challenges the new lads and existing squad to prove themselves ahead of the season opener away at Toulouse.
“There’s no set team in my mind so far. I’m pretty honest with my group of players. It’s up to them in the next few weeks to step up and put themselves on the plane for that first game.”
Salford had an impressive season in 2017, reaching the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and reaching fourth in the regular Super League season, before finishing seventh in the Super 8s. Littler, who spent 12 years with the Devils, was impressed with his former club’s season.
“They were in the position they found themselves in last year on merit. They play an attractive brand of rugby to be honest and they are coached well. It’s going to be a tough ask, but as with any game we are going to have a go.”
With just three pre-season games to play before the new season kicks in, Littler is ready to rotate his squad due a few minor injuries within the squad.
“We’ve not quite got a full squad yet. We’ll be rotating our players, giving everyone a shot, keeping bodies fresh. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll get a few bodies back from knocks and people will be able to play more minutes. I’m talking with the medical staff to see where we are at the moment but we will get there.”
WHAT THE FANS THINK
Stephen Johnson, Swinton Lions Supporters Trust
Salford v Swinton. Perhaps not the most glamorous, ‘biggest’ or even most storied of rugby league rivalries, but as any handling code enthusiast will tell you, there is the only one that matters – and so it is on Sunday. That it takes place outside of league or cup competition matters little, save for the possibility of seeing everyone take the field at some point – something keenly anticipated by Swinton supporters as every new signing or re-signing announced during the dark days of the off-season was greeted with growing anticipation.
The off-season, a chance to rebuild – but many observers (and certainly those without a love of the men in blue with a white chevron) may have believed that rebuilding would take place on shaky foundations – and perhaps this would have rang true were it not for the extraordinary efforts of everyone who holds this club dear.
Well documented fundraising and the coming together of Lions’ supporters like never before sees the club about to take the field with a squad featuring; – Super League talent (and not the clichéd ‘back end of his career’ jaunts of days gone by). – Exciting prospects – surely one of the great joys of supporting your team, in whatever sport (made extra special when some of those grew up on the same streets as us, as the talk of the local rugby league scene) – The return of genuine overseas signings, with an air of mystery and promise – at least until we fired up youtube! – The nucleus of last year’s squad – perhaps the first aim for side, anywhere, building for the future – proud to have them back.
What ever happens on Sunday, expect to see a team proud of its town, and a town proud of its team. A jersey to honour those that went before, worn by those that go now. Rugby League is back, and so are the lions. Truth is, they never went away.
Rob Parkinson, Devil in the Detail podcast and Sportszone Presenter on Salford City Radio
With Marwan Koukash relinquishing his controlling stake in the club and passing it to consortium of supporters, fans on the terrace are excited about the consortium and looking forward to 2018.
On the field, Salford have recruited well, the big name signing is Jack Littlejohn. The 26-year-old half back who joined the Reds from West Tigers will replace the experienced Michael Dobson. Littlejohn has a very good kicking game and is tipped to go well for Salford this season.
Ian Watson has also recruited Ben Nakubuwai from Gold Coast Titans, Levy Nzougou from Toulouse Olympique, Gavin Bennion from Rochdale and welcome back Luke Burgess from Catalan Dragons. All three forwards will certainly add size and strength to a already strong pack which suits Salford style of rugby.
Salford’s back division has also been improved with signing of Derrell Olpherts from Newcastle Thunder, his pace, power and try scoring abilities could set super league alight in 2018.
The friendly against Swinton allows Ian Watson to give his squad chance to impress before the Super League season starts, he knows against a quality Swinton side lead by ex-Salford player Stuart Littler it will be a tough test to start 2018.
KEY INFORMATIONMATCH OFFICIALS: Referee – Mr M Griffiths, Touch Judges – S Houghton, A Smith
VENUE AJ BELL STADIUM, M30 7LJ