As the teams trooped off for the extended (owing to live TV coverage) half time interval, at last Friday’s home Super League encounter, both coaches and groups of players must have had much with which to feel well satisfied.
Visitors, Wigan, will have been pleased with the fact that they were in front, even if by only six points, and with the manner in which they had managed the game, spending much of the half, particularly during the opening twenty minutes, on attack with adequate ball possession and field position.
Salford, for their part, will have been especially pleased with their defence, which had withstood all but one of the questions thrown at it, and also with the way in which they had gradually worked towards parity with the Warriors in terms of position and possession, in the second quarter. That they had not managed to score, in order to level up the scoreboard, was a little disappointing but nevertheless they had come as close to doing so as Wigan had, to extending their lead.
That first forty had produced just one defensive error – by Salford’s right edge – where an overlap had been worked for left winger, Marshall, who promptly cut inside to set up Smith for a try he, himself, converted. Other than that, the game had been an intriguing arm wrestle, in which Salford had matched the cup holders in every aspect. After the disappointment at Hull KR, the week before, the return of two big forwards not only steadied the side, it gave them some noticeable go-forward.
Sitaleki Akauola ran as strongly as we have seen from him, and he gave what was probably his best performance, since joining the Red Devils. On his introduction, midway through the half, the imposing, Sam Luckley, set about giving a sterling performance, in which he took on, and diminished, the dominant power of the Warriors’ pack, by injecting some considerable hit-ups, which quickly started to take their toll on the opposition’s defenders.
So, with honours close to being even, thoughts turned to the coming forty minutes, and how things might shape up. Wigan had shown not only in the previous week, against Castleford, that they can turn round, from the interval, as a completely different team. Whilst there have been odd occasions earlier in the season, such as the Leeds and Castleford encounters, when Salford have done likewise, there have also been other occasions they have failed to do so, and consequently succumbed to the dominance of the opposition.
It did not take long after the restart for spectators of both persuasions to discover just which path the second forty of this game would take – a mere four minutes to be precise. A crucial penalty went Wigan’s way, after an altercation involving players from both sides. From that they built up an attack which brought Marshall his first try from Bibby’s kick, to take the Warriors into double figures.
The home side’s immediate response, with an attack of their own, went sadly wrong three minutes later, when Andy Ackers’s pass was intercepted by Field, from which he and French broke clear, down the right edge. Thankfully, Salford’s excellent scrambling defence was equal to the attack, and although they were initially outpaced by the pair, they got back in sufficient numbers to snuff out the threat, forcing French to spill the ball.
Ironically, a mere two minutes later, an end-of-set kick landed straight in the arms of French, and he and Field promptly set off again, but this time, despite the endeavours of the Salford defence, the combined efforts of two of the fastest players in Super League, managed to get the winger in at the corner and the goal kick then put them sixteen points in front.
There could not have been a more morale deflating event possible, and that, coupled with the loss of energy Salford players had already expended in the first half, enabled the visitors to hit a purple patch, running in three tries in six minutes, as a result of their total domination of possession during this period.
Hurt as their pride was, the Reds struck back near the end with two deserved tries, both converted by Marc Sneyd, from kicks into the in-goal area. The first, which followed the awarding of a repeat set, was from Sneyd’s kick into the corner, the bounce of which eluded Ken Sio, but was caught and grounded by his centre, Deon Cross.
Finally, the absolutely magnificent Kallum Watkins was first to get a hand to the ball, from Brodie Croft’s kick. The visiting, Shaun Wayne, can have been nothing but impressed by the recently converted, second rower’s performance throughout, and to secure the final try of the evening was only just dessert for him and his wholehearted efforts.
With yet another weekend ahead without a match, the Red Devils might well benefit from this one rather more than the last one, two weeks ago. On that occasion it disrupted their run of wins, but this time they hopefully will use it to rediscover the form they had been showing in their previous four fixtures.