It was a match most worthy of the honour of opening the long-awaited return to St James’ Park, Newcastle, for a Dacia Magic Weekend, after two previous postponements, with the Red Devils going head-to-head with Castleford, in a finely balanced, highly entertaining contest.
The misfortunes surrounding injuries and Covid, which have haunted the Salford squad for much of the season, took its toll yet again, when, not for the first time, the Red Devils lost one of their starting line-up in the warm-up, when second rower, Harvey Livett, was forced to pull out, thus triggering a hasty rearrangement of the side.
The Reds, nevertheless, shook off this latest disruption to their game plans, and for much of the encounter equalled and tested the Tigers, for whom there was certainly far more at stake, with a place in the top six play-offs at their beckoning.
Spectators from both sides of the Pennines were certainly kept on the edge of their seats as the Yorkshire side, on three occasions, took the lead, only to see it either cancelled out, as on the first two occasions, or later eroded into, thereby keeping the Red Devils well and truly in contention throughout the great majority of the eighty minutes.
Whilst the Castleford team can be said to have been the more clinical of the two, taking their chances whenever they came their way, it was Salford who provided the greater degree of entertainment with their wide, expansive rugby, which kept their opponents’ defence on the move and on their toes, throughout.
Their first try, on thirteen minutes, typified this, with the ball being moved first from right to left, following a tap penalty, before Sarginson and Lolohea in turn wove back along the line to the right, for Tui to feed the ball to Ken Sio, who cut inside to add to his growing tally of scores for the season.
Ten minutes later, the ball was passed through five pairs of hands, with a slickness that completely outflanked the Castleford defence to get the ball to Joe Burgess, who showed that he could finish off such moves as equally efficiently, on his wing.
Unfortunately, it was to be a further thirty-three minutes before the Reds could add to that score, and, in the meantime, Castleford had not only restored their lead, two minutes before halftime, they had extended it six minutes into the second half.
The one try Salford did score, mid-way through that second period, came after a prolonged period of pressure on the Castleford line, in which strong carries from Luckley, Lolohea, and Johnson, got them within a couple of metres of the Tigers’ line, whose swift line speed was foiled by Ata Hingano’s feinted pass which enabled him to cross for his first try since joining the club.
Unfortunately, it was to be of little significance on its own, and needed to have been backed up with at least one other score to have got the Reds back into the game, score-wise. As far as possession and opportunity were concerned, however, they had both of these aplenty, for several minutes beforehand, and continued to do so, for much of the remainder of the game, but without any further reward.
Indeed, it was Castleford, who went on to add one further try on seventy-two minutes, and a Jordan Turner drop-goal, at the death. That their line was breached on five occasions was something of a disappointment after their magnificent defence against Hull, five days earlier, but having been called upon to turn out on four occasions, in a mere fourteen days, this must surely have been a contributing factor especially when every other team, Leigh apart, had played on either the Thursday or Friday of the week before, at a time when even a single day’s difference would have been a significant recovery differential.
Salford supporters can nevertheless, enjoy the satisfaction of the contribution the team made to an enjoyable contest and a truly magnificent occasion, which was a credit to everyone at the RFL involved in successfully staging such a complex event at this time, as well as to the participating clubs, players and fans who attended.