RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V WIGAN

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V WIGAN

by | Mar 16, 2024

It was always going to be a considerable challenge backing up that historic victory over St Helens, last week, after a forty-four year wait, against the current league leaders and World Club Champions, Wigan Warriors, because playing against teams of that calibre, with their extra size, power, speed and flair, really takes it out of opposing players.  It is not unusual for other sides to suffer a drop in their own performance, the week following an encounter with one or other of these two teams.

Salford, though, have been a real eye-opener so far this season, and it would be fair to say that Thursday evening’s fixture was between the two most in-form sides in Super League, and any doubters to that view must surely have had their opinions corrected by the Red Devils’ contribution to what proved to be a most high-class contest between the two sides.

One might say that this was almost unexpected because the Red Devils had suffered considerably from injuries and illnesses, prior to kick off.  Despite this it was Salford who settled the more quickly, taking advantage of a Wigan error in their first set.

From there, the first half ebbed and flowed, with first one side well-placed with both possession and field position, and then the other.  Two aspects of their attacks which both shared were their ability to transition smoothly from defence into attack, and then to follow this up with back-to-back sets from opposition’s touches, set-restarts, penalties and enforced goal-line drop-outs.

Consequently, the Warriors’ first set error, was followed by Chris Atkin making great progress upfield, followed by an excellent, Marc Sneyd end-of-set kick-in-goal, which brought them not only a goal-line drop-out, but a set-restart, too.

Little wonder, therefore, that after twelve minutes play it was Salford who had had by far the greater ascendency with Wigan being limited to occasional sets of possession, which gained them only temporary relief. 

That all changed, a minute later, when the Warriors were awarded a couple of penalties and then had two seven-tackle sets which, starting on their 20m line, enabled them to get much closer to the Red Devils’ line, and they, too, forced a goal-line drop-out for good measure.

The Reds’ defence, however, just as Wigan’s had been earlier, was equal to the task, but it was mid-half before the game settled into a cut and thrust arm wrestle, and the half hour before Salford were able to regain the ascendency and challenge sustainedly the Warriors’ goal-line defence, once again. 

It was, however, the lack of scoring opportunities, for both side, which, was the significant aspect of the half, with Salford’s most hopeful opportunity resulting, for the second game in succession, with Ryan Brierley in collision with Smith, whilst attempting to get to the ball to ground it between the post.

Just as it looked as though the teams would be leaving the field at half-time with a 0-0 draw on the cards, Wigan conjured up a well-placed grubber kick into the corner for left winger Marshall to ground the ball, which stood up beautifully into his arms for him, in the last minute, and put them four points ahead.

The second half, in total contrast to the first, whilst still retaining those protracted periods of ascendency, saw a total of four end in tries, all of which were converted.  First, it was the Warriors, who built upon two back-to-back sets near the Salford line, by sending out a wide pass to Miski on the right wing and put them in double figures.

Tries like that, either side of half-time, can so often kill a game off, with that team following up with even more, but not on this occasion.  Salford, despite this seeming setback, took the game by the scruff of the neck, and no less than three back-to-back sets ended with Sneyd’s marvellous kick-in-goal bringing a try under the posts for Sam Stone, on 50 mins.

Twelve minutes later, Sneyd repeated this feat, with another in-goal kick this time to the left edge, which Tim Lafae latched onto, to put the Reds ahead for the first time after Sneyd had landed the goal from well out.

Heartbreakingly, there was to be one final twist.  We all know that a dismissal or sin-binning can change the balance of the game – usually in the favour of the non-offending team – but on this occasion Smith’s sinbinning on 72 mins turned out to favour the visitors, who galvanised themselves to even greater effort to see the game through.

The match winner came on 75 mins when a Salford goal-line drop-out was taken with a clear run to the line after the Red Devils’ right edge had been sucked into contesting for the ball, and the Warriors still had time to cross again with French using his explosive running talent cut through to give the scoreboard a somewhat unrepresentative look.

So, two points might have been lost, but what the Red Devils have gained in terms of respect, both locally and across the whole of rugby league, could well turn out to be far more important, for have they not shown to everyone that they can live with, and match, the elite of Super League, not just on one-off occasions but week-in week-out, even in the adverse context of last night? Bring on the rest!

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