For the second week in succession, Salford Red Devils had a half time lead expunged during the second period, to end up with a loss that had appeared most unlikely, as the teams trooped off for the half-time interval, in this Round 3 fixture at the home of the Warrington Wolves.
That the home side had opened 2023 with two most impressive victories, at home to Leeds and away at Huddersfield, must have hung over the visiting Salford fans, prior to kick-off, but such anxieties were quickly dissipated despite a Warrington try in the eighth minute, for there was a definite step up by the Reds, from the previous week’s performance against Hull KR.
The tactics based around their slick, wonderfully entertaining qualities might well have not changed but the execution of them was markedly better than the previous week, with every pass being so much more telling, and the gaps opening up more easily and effectively, as a result.
Their first, and equalising try, on eleven minutes, was a consequence of some precisionally timed, and accurately executed, passes, as the ball was moved along the line to Joe Burgess who unsurprisingly had had his opposite number sucked in-field, and so was completely in the clear to race down the wing before sending an equally effective and accurate pass inside to the supporting Ellis Longstaff, who must have revelled in crossing the line against his parent club, on their own pitch.
In addition, the Red Devils had learned from their previous experience the importance of muscling up in the physical aspects of the game. Twice, in the opening twenty-five minutes, Tyler Dupree made clean breaks through the Wolves’ defence, brushing off attempted tackles and making great yardage up the field to build up good field position. Not only he, but the remaining members of the pack were eager to make their presence felt, with Ollie Partington at the centre of so much of both attacking play and defensive efforts.
Last week, the problem was that they had failed to build a sufficiently comfortable lead, after their opening four pointer. Not so, this time out, with first yet another interception by Ken Sio which saw him make progress before setting up Ryan Brierley, who showed terrific speed to get over for another.
With Marc Sneyd’s being on target with both conversion attempts, his third effort was to tack on the extras to his own try, when he hoodwinked the Wires’ defence and coasted through. He rounded off the first stanza with an additional two points from a penalty goal, which meant that by half time, there was a clear fourteen points difference between the sides, as opposed to the four, against Hull KR.
It is extremely doubtful that there was anyone who did not expect a response in some form or other from this Warrington side, so impressive in previous weeks, and our players will have certainly prepared themselves for such, but, when it came, it was in a form that was extremely difficult to do anything about, for quite simply they were most cleverly deprived of the ball, being in possession for less than ten minutes of the forty. Without it, all anyone can do is tackle, tackle, and keep on tackling in the hope that it will come around to them, eventually.
All that tackling takes it toll, however, on energy levels, knocks and the like sustained in the collisions, and with a sense of frustration building up, which can then affect effectiveness on the few occasions possession does come their way. One wayward pass to Joe Burgess, on the first tackle of a set, which went behind him and straight into touch, was merely symptomatic of this.
The Wolves took possession straight from Salford’s half-time kick-off, and proceeded to start as many as seven sets and retain possession for almost nine minutes. The Reds’ one chance of stemming this tide came at the end of the first set, the high kick from which was left completely unclaimed by anyone on the field, and the ball, having been allowed to bounce, ricocheted up and backwards into the arms of Warrington, who were quickly afterwards awarded a penalty, which triggered a set restart.
From that point on, they found ploy after ploy to reclaim the ball for yet another set. The problem then became compounded by defenders conceding penalties, set restarts, and even a sin-binning, which on this occasion proved to be so crucial, in their increasingly tiring endeavours to styme the waves of attack thrown at them. So good, though, was the Salford defence in the early stages of the half that there were times when the Wolves actually ended up further back than they had started the set.
Significant, however, was the Reds’ seeming difficulty to deal with the high, short-distance, hanging kicks, which their hosts seemed to be able to reclaim, with some regularity. Williams’s kick into the corner for Thewlis’s try was probably their highlight of these, and if the final score-line seems a little unfair to the luckless Red Devils, it was, in part, because it was adversely affected by two, eight-point tries, the first of these being this one, with Dupree being adjudged to have fouled the scorer after the grounding.
So, after four months of the close season, during which coaches of other sides have had chance to weigh up how to deal with the flamboyant attacking style of the Salford Red Devils, we have twice now seen the use of tactical kicking as a partial means of starving them of sufficient possession to be the threat they can be. It is now up to Salford to work on dealing with this in readiness for next week’s trip to Hull. FC