Two extremely protracted and gruelling goal-line defensive efforts, in the final twenty minutes, each lasting over four minutes and comprising of three and even four sets of six with little respite, eventually saw the Salford Red Devils gain the spoils over a strong and physical Catalans side in last Sunday’s home Super League fixture, and thereby stretch their winning run to three, though not without the incredible, good fortune of the Dragons’ missed, final conversion, from almost in front of the posts.
They say that fortune favours the brave, and t was most certainly true for the Salford players last Sunday, as they wore themselves to frazzles, roared on by the magnificent, highly vocal home fans, in dealing with wave after wave of Catalans’ attacks, based upon the physical prowess that they possess, particularly in the forwards.
‘Praiseworthy’ is too mild a word for the valiant home pack who had, despite giving away size and weight advantage to their visitors, stood up to them throughout the encounter, and alongside the remainder of the side thwarted onslaught after onslaught, relentlessly hurled at them, particularly in the final half-hour of the game.
The necessity in their having to give so much to the Salford cause was the consequence of just how evenly matched the two sides were, and also the fact that there were only six points separating them, by the time the game was entering its final quarter.
Despite the ascendency, over the previous hour, swinging from one side to the other, with the Red Devils controlling the majority of the first half and Catalans picking up the gauntlet in the second, neither side was able to turn that dominance into sufficient points as to have much in the way of cushioning, even when in the lead.
The Dragons handling deteriorated rapidly, after having matched their hosts in the opening stanza, and it was their continual loss of possession that gave Salford opportunities to attack, the first coming from a penalty against the visitors, who then obliged by giving away an additional set-restart, ending with King Vuniyayawa’s surging over the line, close to the posts.
Clinical as this had been, the Reds were not able to reproduce anything similar for some considerable time, thereafter. An excellent 40-20, from Andy Ackers, in the 16th minute, was squandered by possession being lost very early in the next tackle count, when the visitors might well have succumbed a second time, with this having come so quickly after the earlier try.
The Reds’ most clear-cut opportunity, though, came on 33 mins, with a break by Joe Burgess down the left, but his inside pass to the supporting Ellis Longstaff proved too difficult for the centre to take. When they did eventually manage to cross the line again, it came from the most unlikely of positions. A 20m restart saw a switch in direction to Burgess, who, having left his left-wing position, raced down the right side to use the utmost skill to ground the ball over the line despite having been overhauled by Johnstone, short of the line.
The sparsity of tries coming their way consequently twice prompted Marc Sneyd to take successful kicks at goal, one in each half, which were at the end to prove crucial in a two-point winning margin. No-one could, however, have foreseen the unexpected outcomes from either, with Salford failing to take the ball from the kick-off, from the first, on 23 mins, and Johnstone then crossing in the corner, direct from the resultant scrum.
The second came on 46 mins, and yet again, on only the third play from the restart, Ackers lost his grip on the ball in a half break, and it was at this point that the change in moment came about. The Frenchmen immediately went downfield to score close enough to the posts for the conversion to be successful, thereafter subjecting their hosts to that almost continual defensive effort, but significantly, without denying them the hearty end-of-match winning celebrations, they so richly deserved.