It is a widely accepted view, among coaches and officials within the game, that if you can score eighteen points it should put you in a good position to win. That opinion, however, fell completely flat for Salford, in their latest Betfred Super League outing against the Warrington Wolves. So what went wrong?
Well, the other side of the score-line tells a different story because by conceding the massive total of sixty-two points it shows the quite lamentable failings of their defence, which had earned such praise over recent weeks.
Not that we needed the score to point that out, for these failings were clearly evident to all and sundry, as the Wolves, particularly through the first and last quarters of the game, ran rampant through it for try after try. It does, nevertheless, show that there were certain aspects of Salford’s performance which were not far short from the mark; there just were not enough of them.
If there were just one solitary reason for such an about turn in the efficacy of their defence, it would be relatively easy to put right, but that is never the case. Head Coach, Richard Marshall, in his after-match reviews, has identified a number of significant issues, not least of which was the number of enforced absentees, many of whom were our most senior and influential players.
In addition to that, though there were two aspects of the context in which the game took place, a mere glance back over the past three weeks shows the Red Devils having been taken into Golden Point extra-time by Castleford – as if the standard eighty had not been demanding enough.
This was followed by an unenviable trip to St Helens to muscle up against the Super League Champions. Then finally, after a very short turn around they held the Wigan Warriors at bay for seventy-seven minutes. This clearly had taken so much out of them that they had practically nothing left in the tank.
Then, there was Warrington. Marshall says that they were white hot, and who could argue with that. It was the sheer speed at which they played the game, and the accuracy with which they executed their plays, that caused so much damage, as our players struggled fruitlessly for twenty minutes to come to terms with it.
How the Wolves must have prepared for this. Five consecutive defeats over the last two seasons, culminating with that ignominious exit from the Challenge Cup, last October, just a couple of minutes away from a return to Wembley, must have rankled greatly with them for months. They clearly had scores to settle, and there were going to be no surprises this time around. Within a minute and a half, they had crossed for the opening try.
With Gareth Widdop running amok, they scythed through the Salford line, almost at will, and by eighteen minutes had that exact same number of points on the board. To be fair, they were well contained in the middle of the field; it was when the ball went further out wide that the gaps appeared or an overlap was worked, and that continued to be the case in the later period of the second half.
Thankfully, the introduction of a couple of fresh players from the bench, on twenty minutes did work wonders, and suddenly the visitors were pushed into a few handling errors, which gave Salford rather more possession, and they gained a foothold in the game. For the remainder of the half it was the Red Devils who were calling the shots as they sought to get back into the game.
For substitute, Sam Luckley, it will have been a very bitter-sweet experience for him, on his Super League debut. In one respect, it will be a match, like everyone else, he will want to forget, but on the other hand he brought some significant go-forward to the proceedings, and if he will learn to be a little more selective with his offloads at this level, he will have a lot to offer over the coming season.
If Warrington could score eighteen points in as many minutes, the Red Devils came pretty close to doing the same themselves. It started with back-to-back sets on the visitors’ twenty metre line, which saw Morgan Escare spring a surprise on everyone by putting in a short kick on the very first tackle of the second set, chase and collect, only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle which prevented him from grounding the ball on the right side of the try line.
Even though it had not succeeded in opening the Reds’ account, it did provide a little encouragement to the rest of the team, whilst giving Warrington something to think about, and it was only a matter of minutes before their lead was eroded into.
One of their own errors not only ended an assault on the Salford line but it provided Ken Sio with possession, and he promptly covered the ninety-five metres along the touchline to score in the corner, to which Harvey Livett added the extras from the touchline.
The irrepressible Livett was then on hand to finish off a right to left passing move with a converted try of his own, to double their score, and the Wolves’ composure started to look a little strained. It only needed for the Red Devils to hold onto that differential, and then build upon it in the second half, and we might have been looking at a rather different outcome.
As it was, and as we all know, that singularly did not happen, and a Warrington try seconds before the interval, followed by another in the first sixty seconds of the second half, was a real setback but even then they managed to muster a further converted try from Darcy Lussick.
It was, eventually, an eighteen-minute period during which they were reduced to twelve men by two sin-binnings, and briefly to eleven when these overlapped, that the game went completely away from them.
Warrington took advantage of these reduced numbers to run in four tries and they really turned the screw from there on, to leave everyone associated with Salford disconsolate and despondent, at the final whistle from the size of the defeat.