In what was arguably their best and most consistent performance of the season, yesterday, the Salford Red Devils came within two minutes of taking the Wigan Warriors into Golden Point extra time, on their home ground of the DW Stadium.
By increasing the speed of many aspects of their play, but most noticeably their handling, Salford were able to play the game at the pace so regularly produced by the Warriors, and consequently set up some quite impressive, and on four occasions at least, most effective periods of attack.
On defence, they had to endure some lengthy periods of goal-line defence, particularly in the second half, which they did with valour and commitment, as Wigan threw everything they could in their direction, in an increasingly desperate attempt to resecure the lead, which Salford had eradicated midway through the forty.
From the early stages of the game, it quickly became apparent that both teams seemed quite capable of breaking down their opponents’ defence, on the back of more protracted periods of pressure, which consequently highlighted the importance of avoiding conceding penalties and set-restarts, and of limiting opportunities for offloads.
Indeed, Salford’s first try came as the result of Chris Atkin’s interception, which set them up in Wigan’s half, and was further aided by Wigan’s fumbling of a kick on their own line, and then conceding a penalty, both of which led to renewed sets, which ended with King Vuniyayawa crossing between the posts.
Similarly, Wigan’s response, five minutes later, came as the result of a penalty for a careless high tackle on the last of a set, followed by a further set-restart. Two of Salford’s other tries, their second from Matt Costello and their third from Alex Gerrard, came from the benefit of a seven-tackle set, following overly powered Wigan kicks into the in-goal area which ran into dead.
Ken Sio’s fifty-third minute interception try over seventy-metres, not only brought Salford the inspiration of drawing level, after resuming after the half-time interval facing a twelve point deficit, it was also some compensation for other assaults on the Warriors’ line, which could have brought further scores for the visitors.
Twice the irrepressible Brodie Croft was involved, once in the first half after a fine break from in his own half, and then linking up in the second half in some excellent inter-passing in front of the Wigan posts, in final passes which unfortunately failed to find their mark. Meanwhile the influential Kallum Watkins also had the misfortune of his slick pass, delivered as he was falling to the ground in a tackle, adjudged to be forward, with the Wigan line at Ryan Brierley’s mercy.
The last fifteen minutes, however, were spent in almost total goal-line defence, the like of which has often been missing on other previous occasions. Twice the home side successfully worked overlaps which threatened to end in tries, only for their passes to the unmarked wingers being so rushed, as a result of Salford’s defensive pressure, that the ball ended up in touch.
In the end, the game was settled by the speed of two-try Jai Field, who found sufficient space down the Salford left flank, to seal the game as only he can, with a ninety metre, six-pointer, under the Salford posts.
It is a credit to the whole team from one to seventeen, that the disappointment, for players, fans, and club officials, at the end was so great, because to come so close to winning, only to be thwarted in the dying minutes, is extremely painful. With further performances like this, however, it will only be a matter of time, before victories start accruing, as the season progresses.