PNG star Nene Macdonald providing much more than tries for Salford Red Devils after first victory

Ben Olawumi
Salford Red Devils badge, Nene Macdonald

Nene Macdonald has enjoyed a fine start to life at Salford Red Devils - Alamy

Two games into his Salford career, it’s already clear that Nene Macdonald offers the Red Devils much more than just tries, and that statement comes on a day which saw him score an absolute cracker.

The Papua New Guinea star got Salford’s third try of the afternoon against Castleford Tigers, securing a first victory of the campaign in their home opener, coming out on the right side of an entertaining 26-22 clash.

Macdonald‘s four-pointer on the stroke of half time was mesmerising, covering circa 30 metres in under five seconds to keep the pace with a high bomb from Marc Sneyd, throwing himself at the ball in the air, catching it above the head of Cas full-back Luke Hooley and grounding on the way back down just before it was too late to do so.

If Macdonald can pull a few more of those off this year, he’s sure-fire to cement his tag as a fans’ favourite in Paul Rowley’s ranks, but the best thing – as boss Rowley touched on himself post-match – is that the centre is backing moments of quality up with so many other little gains.

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PNG star Nene Macdonald providing much more than tries for Salford Red Devils after first victory of season

To start with, before he’d got the try today, the Kumuls ace had already prevented one at the other end.

With the prolific Innes Senior sent clear down the Tigers left, and looking nailed on to race through for a walk-in, Macdonald bolted out wide him and got the perfect amount of contact on the speedster at full stretch to send him into touch by the thinnest of margins.

‘No-try’ was referee James Vella’s on-field decision, and a video referee backed it up – Macdonald’s touch on Senior had seen about half a width of the winger’s boot touch the sideline, enough to deny him and Cas what would have been a much-needed morale-boosting try.

Nene Macdonald
Salford Red Devils centre Nene Macdonald in action against Castleford Tigers – Alamy

The speed and power to first get across, and then the execution at full speed to get enough of a touch on Senior – magnificent.

We shouldn’t be surprised though. Macdonald today (129) ran more metres than anyone else on the field, with winger Chris Hankinson his only team-mate to also surpass the century mark in that aspect.

He also did the same last week in Round 1 against former employers Leeds Rhinos, earning a spot in our Team of the Week having made the most metres of any Salford player at Headingley (142).

Combined, after two rounds, he’s currently 8th in the entire competition in terms of metres made – he isn’t a winger!

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Macdonald consistently making metres

Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider how much of a boost the metres are to the team he’s playing in, and ultimately the club he’s now pulling on a shirt for.

Allocating only 24 squad numbers, the Red Devils are in dire need of reinforcements, particularly in the forward pack, where they look very light compared to most in the top flight.

Macdonald being able to make the ground that he is doing at the moment eases the weight of that lack of depth somewhat, most definitely giving Rowley’s pack more than you’d expect a centre to normally.

The ex-Leigh & Leeds back is constantly driving the side up the field whenever given an opportunity to do so, happy to do the hard graft and chip in once his team are in promising attacking positions.

It’s almost been like having a player and a half for Salford so far, such has been his impact on a side many tip to struggle.

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Salford boss Paul Rowley hails ‘shining star’ Nene Macdonald following win over Castleford Tigers

It’s no surprise then that head coach Rowley waxes lyrical over their off-season recruit, who joined after a messy exit from Leeds having not returned from paternal leave granted by the Headingley outfit for him to return Down Under following the birth of his child.

In his post-match press conference at the Salford Stadium today, the Red Devils chief said: “We’ve spoken about challenging kicks more… Nene’s come into this group and you need a player to value something to make that contagious throughout your group.

“He’s definitely brought that, but when you look at the game, Nene for me was the shining star out there. He was the bit of quality on the field. He was different class, and that try was the perfect example of that.

Nene Macdonald
Nene Macdonald during Salford Red Devils’ Round 1 clash with his former employers Leeds Rhinos at Headingley – Alamy

“He wants to play rugby. I tried to get him when he first came over to the country, I was trying hard to get him then because he’s my sort of player.

“He’s come here and I think he’s enjoying himself. He’s been great for the group and I can’t speak highly enough of him to be honest.

“Something people won’t recognise about him is his work ethic and his conscientiousness about his play. He’s a serious footballer who does his homework, and when you start talking rugby with him, he switches on.

“While he’s a joker and he players with a smile on his face, when it gets to rugby, he switches on and he’s very serious about his trade.

“There’s two sides to Nene, and I like it. He fits in brilliantly.”

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