It was not quite the game we had been expecting. Looking over the fixture list a few weeks ago, games against St Helens, Catalans, and Huddersfield loomed large on the horizon, but with Hull FC seemingly in free fall, at the time, this appeared to be one game we could possibly look forward to winning with rather more ease, particularly with it being a home fixture, and the rampant form that the Red Devils had shown in their most recent outings
In the event, however, this all proved to be a far cry from the game which ensued, with the visitors arriving with a rather more representative side than had been on view over recent outing and the benefit of this to their performance became increasingly evident.
Salford, themselves, might have been a shade off their lethal best, on the night, which to a certain extent is most understandable when taking into account the energy sapping travels to and from the south of France last weekend, coupled with the extremely short recovery period in the run-up to last night’s encounter.
Consequently, the scintillating attacks, to which have now become accustomed, were in somewhat short supply, and as the game wore on, the players had to adapt to a rather less flamboyant style in order to get the job done and bring home the two vital league points.
The opening exchanges had not, though, signalled anything different as they tore the Hull defence asunder with a blind-side move, which put Brodie Croft in the clear, but, with support available on either side of him, he attempted to dummy his way past Jake Connor, at fullback. If he were to have that moment again, Brodie would probably take a different option, but with so many players alongside him, he possibly had too many from which to choose, on the spur of the moment.
Having seemingly been able to snuff out such a clear scoring opportunity did wonders for the motivation of the Humbersiders, and they seemed visibly to grow in confidence, from that point on. It was, consequently, not until the eleventh minute that Salford notched their first points, which came on the back of sustained pressure, courtesy of a Hull goal-line drop-out.
Kallum Watkins, it was, who followed up his brace of surging runs at Catalans, the week before, when he was put through for another great run, to score close in, with Marc Sneyd converting. Back-to-back tries have not been uncommon for Salford over recent weeks, but any thoughts of that happening in this game, soon evaporated, when it surprisingly turned out to be the visitors who were next to cross the line, after Salford had conceded a penalty to set them up to attack.
The Reds had a great deal to be thankful for goal-line drop-outs, as one having already led to one try, another such restart saw the ball moved along the line to Tim Lafai, who, in the absence of Joe Burgess, fed Rhys Williams, who made just as much of the opportunity as Burgess, himself, would have done to take the score to 10-6.
Finding that their normal routes to the try-line were being well policed by Hull defenders, the Salford players were required to draw upon every individual skill they had at their disposal, and a superb 40-20, on 26 mins, from Sneyd, laid a platform for the Reds, but sadly without anything coming of it.
Not so Sneyd’s opposite number Gale, who had been causing endless trouble for the Reds, with his end-of-set kicks. Indeed, Hull’s opening try had come from a kick, and so too did their second, though only with the assistance of an extremely awkward bounce – directly into the hands of Fash – which gave the visitors an eyebrow-raising, 10-12, half time lead.
It was a much more determined home side which emerged for the second half, and the patience they needed to accompany this was certainly tested to the full, at vital times. Six minutes from the resumption they got their reward, in the form of a try straight from a scrum 25m out, which concluded with Ken Sio crossing in the corner to restore their lead, at 16-12, with Sneyd’s conversion.
Deon Cross’s 57th minute try between the posts went some considerable way to settling nerves, especially when Sneyd added on the extras, and there was an air of expectation that this might be the portender of several more. Far from that, however, it was Hull, who next got on the score sheet.
A most unexpected Hull downtown kick into touch – usually used by teams in the lead to wind down the clock – worked magically in their favour, when Salford lost the ball inside their own half, and the Yorkshire side opened up the defence on their left wing to bring them back to within four points, and those nerves began to jangle again.
Not for the players, though. They remained totally calm, and used their experience from previous matches to soak up the sets, and the remaining seven minutes, with a steadiness which must have disheartened their opponents, until a final Hull error from a kick gave possession back to the Red Devils who celebrated with Ryan Brierley’s try, to wrap up the game.
A tough game it most certainly was, but possibly just the right thing to prepare the players for the challenge which awaits them, on Monday, at Castleford.