Despite another short turn around after their victory over Leigh, the previous Saturday, Salford Red Devils, yet again in front of the television cameras, on Thursday evening, cemented their place in the current top six, with a hard-fought victory over the improving Castleford Tigers.
It is a notable tribute to the team that on the back of their tremendous performances in the later stages of last season, the SKY Sports team have targeted showing the Red Devils’ matches with some quite considerable regularity over the start of this season, and although it was an evening with both defences on top, the team did not disappoint in terms of dedication, effort, and, above all, winning.
True, the scoreline was on the low side, but on a cold evening, in a biting wind, the players did extremely well to produce a performance full of attacking ideas and handling ploys, which on a summer’s day may well have brought about a rather higher return in terms of points. No-one could deny the quality of their slick inter-passing, which tested the Castleford defence, time and again. They just needed to have retained possession in attack for longer than the solitary sets they produced in order to wear the Tigers’ defence down.
It was therefore down to their defensive effort of limiting the visitors to a solitary try in the third minute and thereafter holding them pointless for the remaining seventy-seven, which brought them the two league points. It was not necessarily their midfield line-defence which was most noteworthy, more their scrambling defence which brought some absolutely valiant efforts from a number of individuals.
As early as the 17th minute a magnificent triple effort, started by Sam Stone, and quickly supported by Andy Ackers and Ryan Brierley, prevented a Cas try being scored by Milner thanks to their holding him back, a whisker from the line. Two minutes from the interval the timely arrival of Tyler Dupree, at full pace, was enough to force Eden onto the touchline, thereby making his considerable athleticism in the subsequent grounding, irrelevant.
Similar efforts continued into the second half, when first, Marc Sneyd’s last ditch tackle on Evalds caused the fullback to lose control of the ball has he sought to ground it between the posts on 49 mins, followed up some 14 mins later by another tackle on Milner just short of the line, this time by Wright, followed by the intervention again of Brierley to prevent his endeavours to roll over and ground the ball over the line.
There were also some significant pieces of individual skill, which might on occasions go unnoticed, or which we sometimes take for granted. Joe Burgess’s 8th minute, high level take of the ball in the air, which, on landing, he followed up with a half break through the visitors’ defence to clear the danger, was one such of these, likewise, Kallum Watkins’s midfield sideways run and offload, under pressure, to free up Brierley to continue the build up to Brodie Croft’s try under the posts, on 36 minutes.
Probably most eye-catching of all however was Brierley’s feat of collecting the ball on 52 minutes, behind his own line, to then turn the speedy Eden inside out with some incredible footwork and then cap it all with an offload to Ken Sio, as another Castleford player bore down on him. Everything about it had the hallmarks of absolute class.
Even Salford’s two-try total could well have been double that, had they been just a little more fortunate. The referral of Sneyd’s 23rd minute grounding to the video-ref saw it disallowed as it became apparent that, after his short kick through, the ball had bounced up to touch his arm, thus being adjudged as a knock on. Similarly, 44 minutes into the second half, Sam Stone was denied a try with, this time, Chris Atkin having fumbled a loose ball forward in his attempt to gather it up.
Nevertheless, there was to be no denying the Red Devils for the two tries which were to count. In what had been their best period that far, spanning the second quarter, it culminated in Brierley racing down the right wing, from Watkins’s pass, to put in the best, and most rewarding, kick of the half, for Croft to take a grasp of it as it stood up beautifully for him to go over for his team’s opener.
Shane Wright has been growing in notoriety over recent weeks having already notched up three tries against Hull (2) and Leigh. With 56 minutes on the clock, he latched onto Sneyd’s beautifully timed short pass to surge over the line, between the posts and with Sneyd then having converted both tries, he had the opportunity to open up a two score, eight-point, match-winning lead, when Milner was penalised for tackling Ollie Partington without the ball, ten minutes from the end.