It seemed like a cup-tie, it felt like a cup-tie, and it certainly was as important as any cup-tie, yet when watching Bank Holiday Monday’s final away fixture of the regular season, it was anything but that, for cup-ties are usually tight, closely fought encounters, with both sides overly wary of making mistakes.
There certainly was no evidence of that from the Red Devils as they took on Castleford at the Jungle, in what was effectively a preliminary round, play-off, of their own, with both sides needing to win to be certain of a place in the actual play-offs, which start next week.
Throwing the ball around with a seeming carefree abandon, the Salford players, for around fifty-five minutes, ripped into their hosts, in a manner which absolutely stunned them. Looking back on the game, the thing that is imprinted on the mind, as it so often has been recently, is the avalanche of tries they scored, and the exceptionally high quality of them, yet there were many other aspects of the performance, without which the victory would have been far more difficult to achieve.
Not least of these were the heroic efforts of Marc Sneyd and Ryan Brierley in chasing back, shortly after the start of the second half to overhaul Olpherts, as he hared down the left wing, after having intercepted a Salford attacking pass. Delicately balanced as the game was, at that point, how it might have unfolded thereafter, had they not brought his progress to an early finish, thankfully does not need to be considered.
The, at times, valiant defence of the whole team, particularly, but not solely, during the latter stages of the first half, was imperative in retaining their lead into the break. Tries were thwarted, even on occasions when the would-be scorer had crossed the line, a double dose of which came on the 23rd minute, when first Jack Ormondroyd, Shane Wright and Ryan Brierley, and then from the resultant play-the-ball, with the help of King Vuniyayawa, and Shane Wright again, Andy Ackers managed to get his body under the ball to prevent it from being grounded between the posts.
It was not always a tackle which was required. Sometimes, just the pressure being put on an opponent by a Salford player racing at him, as he was receiving a pass, was enough to force an error from him. The inside backs have become most adept at this now, and there were a number of these in evidence yesterday, the most notable being the way Eden was rushed into sending out an over-zealous pass to his left wing, which again deprived Olpherts of this opportunity to open his account.
The immaculate kicking of Sneyd, whether it be from the tee or at the end of sets, is something we now take for granted, just as we do with the energy put into the chases by his teammates. Life is so much easier for the Red Devils, who usually progress at six points at a time, whereas other teams have to be content with a larger proportion of four points only.
It was good to see his slotting over a couple of early penalties in each half, firstly to give the Reds an early lead, and then later to kick-start the acquisition of points, after a near thirty-minute drought before half time. In all he was successful with seven attempts out of eight, the one miss coming from a sixty metre attempt post first-half hooter.
Alongside all this there remains the hard yardage made by the forwards. Alex Gerrard has been most reliable and unshirking in this throughout the season and was in evidence again yesterday, while Ormondroyd capped one of his forward charges with a try and was unfortunate to have a second disallowed for a forward pass. Tyler Dupree has made great progress since joining us earlier in the season, and Ackers was irrepressible in sparking attack after attack with his scoots from dummy half, or the speed and accuracy of his distribution from the play-the-ball.
It is from the combination of these, therefore, that the platform is laid for those wonderful, slick attacking moves, with the magnificent Brodie Croft the architect of so many of them. In the few months he has been with us he has cemented the team around him, and must now strike fear into the hearts of any other club which has to face him.
He is fortunate, it is true, to have a volley of strike players around him who can capitalise on so many of his insertions into the opposition’s half. These are the players whom we so often name, week after week, for scoring the tries, and absolutely thrilling us in so doing. They also contribute much that might not be as readily recognised, as might have been the case with Kallum Watkins’s wide right to left pass, which ensured that Ken Sio’s interception resulted in a try, despite his being stopped, short of the line.
Finally, there are our fabulous, fans, many of whom travel to the farthest flung outreaches of the league, and make their presence felt on each and every occasion. Your contribution is so important to the players, and they respond so magnificently to your encouragement, and in recognition we celebrate this by means of our banner photograph, with a player’s eye view from Monday’s game.
Putting this altogether, one can only rejoice at the outcome of having it all, so far, and that is in an assured place in this season’s top six play-offs. Who, back in March and early April would have predicted that – yet it is there to be looked forward to – and, once they take the field in the first actual play-off, the team might well find, rather as they did recently against Hull, that, whoever it is against, they will have to rely more and more on all of the elements above, because the encounter might well be much more of a cup tie than this one was.