Salford 8 Featherstone 22 Match Report
It is several decades since the might of Featherstone Rovers was in evidence at the highest levels of rugby league, and indeed their men’s team have yet to sample a season in Super League. That, however, is not the case with their ladies’ team which has played together, with relatively few comings and goings over a number of seasons, long before the inception of the Women’s Super League competition.
The benefit to them, therefore, has been the in-built understanding and trust between players, which can only develop over time, and which was crucial to them upon their entry into Super League, where they have become quite comfortably established especially since the split into two levels.
No simple straightforward challenge were they, therefore, for the Salford Red Devils in Sunday’s first stage Challenge Cup encounter, which is played on a group basis, with Wigan and Cardiff being the teams to make up this particular group.
Indeed, the game had barely got into its second minute, when the visitors attacked down their right flank, and crossed in the corner to open the scoring and take a four-point lead, thereby shocking their hosts into a significant increase in intensity and concentration, which paid dividends surprisingly quickly.
A Featherstone error gave the Reds possession in good field position and they were able to launch their first attack, which culminated in the ball being moved along the line to the right, where a final long pass found second rower, Victoria Kini, most unusually, covering the wing position, and she it was who took the ball to cross in the corner, on 8 minutes, to level the score, though too far out for Sam Evans to convert.
The continued, increased pressure the Red Devils were now able to bring to bare on their opponents consequently precipitated a strongly contested arm-wrestle, in which the Salford players were able to hold their own, but the sheer physicality of the game began to cause problems in their ranks with injuries coming with some regularity.
Right winger, Katie Garry had already had to be replaced, as early as the fifth minute, and scrum half, Sam Evans had to retire twenty minutes later, to be followed in the last five minutes of the half by stand-off and captain, Lousie Fellingham, and second-rower, Liana Leota.
It was, nevertheless, 28 minutes on the clock, before the Rovers were able to restore their lead, with a second unconverted try in their right-hand corner, after the courageous Red Devils’ defence had held up a grounding on the left of the field.
Even then, they could count themselves somewhat fortunate that that stalwart of the Salford pack, over recent weeks, Sarina Tamou, lost possession of the ball as she crossed the line, four minutes later. The visitors, however, were able to take advantage of the tiring Salford defence, two minutes from half time, with another try thanks to support on the right for a break down the middle to bring the half time score to 4-12.
With a bench completely devoid of any fit players upon whom to draw, the second half was clearly going to be a considerable challenge for the Salford players. One aspect of the game in which the Red Devils had had supremacy, however, was in their end-of-set kicking, which had been started by Evans, continued briefly by Fellingham, and then completed throughout the second half with the introduction of Demi Jones to the scrum-half role.
She, it was, on 44 minutes, who put in one of her renowned cross-field kicks to the right edge, where Sage Bannister timed her arrival for it to perfection, without breaking stride, to score in the corner, and reduce the deficit, once more, to four points.
Her try was, in fact, most deserved, as she had had a most impressive game, particularly in defence, since her introduction to the fray, after five minutes, and this resultant try, promptly inspired her to a further, highly commendable contribution on attack, from the wing, throughout the remainder of the game.
The optimism this brought was, however, to be short-lived, and their line of defence was opened up, four minutes later, by a Rovers’ dummy, which secured them their fourth try.
With backs really to the wall, there are some teams, which, in such circumstances, would have folded and succumbed to whatever was thrown at them, but this Salford team is made of sterner stuff than that. With the forwards, as always, leading the way and matching up to a much bigger and stronger pack than they have previously encountered, the whole team dug deep to keep their line intact, whilst also conjuring up counter-attacks whenever they could.
Had the score, therefore, remained as it was, at 8-16, this would probably have been regarded as a fair reflection of the game and the two teams. Unfortunately, the balance was upset with the last move of the match bringing Featherstone a final try – converted with the only successful goal-kick of the afternoon.
As is the case throughout the whole of rugby league, the Red Devils have a blank weekend coming up, but are then hosts to Cardiff, in the second of the group fixtures, at home, on Sunday 7th May (time to be confirmed).
Luci McKeown, Katie Garry, Steph Gray, Alex Simpson, Lauren Ellison, Louise Fellingham, Sam Evans, Megan Condliffe, Tamzin Corcoran, Sarina Tamou, Liana Leota, Victoria Kini, Brogan Evans
Abi Collins, Emerald Hickey, Sage Bannister, Demi Jones