RED DEVILS’ PROGRESS EVIDENT IN PLAY OFF SEMI-FINAL

Leigh 28  Salford 10                         Match Report

In what was undoubtedly the most keenly contested of the four encounters between the ladies of the Salford Red Devils and their near neighbours, the Leigh Leopards, the home side were made to battle for every point before eventually progressing through to the final of Super League 2’s end of season play-offs.

Indeed, it was a considerable achievement for the Salford players to have been making an appearance in this stage of the competition in their very first season in Super League, when many a side would, in such circumstances, have more than likely been battling to avoid relegation.  Not so, the Red Devils, who had finished a most creditable fourth to travel to third place Leigh, in this, the semi-final.

Each of the three previous encounters had seen a noticeable narrowing in the differential between the two sides, and although the scoreline failed to reflect this, the outcome, this time, was in the balance right through to the final fifteen minutes, when the home side managed to find a couple of holes in what had been a magnificent defensive effort by the visitors.

Just how tight the game was going to be was evident from the outset, with both sides locked in an arm wrestle – in which neither side could gain dominance – the like of which had not existed in either the pre-season friendly or the two, home and away league fixtures.

It was, however, Leigh who opened the scoring in the 15th minute, as a result of their gaining a penalty near their own line, followed by a set-restart inside the Salford half, before working an overlap on the left flank with an unconverted try in the corner.

Unfazed by this setback, the Reds continued to muscle up in defence, repelling every Leigh onslaught and setting up line-testing attacks of their own.  One magnificent tackle by centre, Alex Simpson, prevented a near certain try, on 23 mins, and six minutes later she was most unfortunate to be denied a try of her own, when a prior tackle on her winger, Lauren Ellison, was adjudged to have been completed.

As so often seems to happen these days, a disallowed try at one end of the field led to a recognised try at the other, once again coming after another set-restart, with the successful goal-kick giving the Leopards a 10-0 lead, on 32mins.

Once again, the Salford defence was called into action with one of the biggest hits of the afternoon being affected jointly by Player of the Year, Brogan Evans, and fullback, Sage Bannister, on 36mins.  It was that both were able to combine timing and targeted body areas with such precision that made this so impressive.

Efforts such as this can certainly give a team an uplift, and this proved to be the case on this occasion.  A high, end-of-set kick by Demi Jones was dropped, thus gaining the visitors further possession with which they set up, second rower, Viki Kini to force her way over, on 39 mins, enabling Jones to narrow the half time margin to 10-6.

The inspiration that the score had brought the Red Devils was carried through into the second half, and a Leigh error in their own half, early in the tackle count, gave away possession, which Salford were able to use to set up captain, Louise Fellingham, for a try on 43 mins, not only to level the score, but to rattle the home side at the loss of their lead.

The arm wrestle, which had been so tightly fought in the opening period, reappeared as both teams sought once again to gain dominance, but this time the Salford players had developed a confidence which continued to force the Leopards into uncharacteristic errors, by their defensive efforts.  Left winger, Ellison, was prominent in this, in the way she made excellent decisions when faced on a number of occasions with an overlap, which, each time, she unerringly snuffed out.

The introduction from the bench of Becki Davies, who had had to spend the whole of the season recovering from surgery on a serious leg injury, added a new dimension to the side in both attack and defence, as she performed most promisingly, throughout the rest of the match.

A Leigh penalty, on 55 mins, however, was to prove the turning point in the game, as a change of direction from a strike player got her through the consequential space to score by the post to re-establish the Leopards’ six-point lead.

The Salford defence, nevertheless, continued to work overtime as their hosts rediscovered their composure.  Another try-saving tackle, this time from hooker, Taz Corcoran, on 61 mins, temporarily, saved the day, but the Red Devils were beginning to show signs of tiredness, and a handling error gave the home side the opportunity to secure the win with another try under the posts.

A well-earned, goal-line drop-out to Salford, on 70 mins, was unfortunately mis-fielded, and, direct from the resultant scrum, the ball was collected by one of the Leigh speedsters, who sprinted the seventy metres to the other end of the field to give the score-line a somewhat one-sided impression of what had been a tough, and most enthralling encounter.

SALFORD:

Sage Bannister, Katie Garry, Sam Evans, Alex Simpson, Lauren Ellison, Louise Fellingham, Demi Jones, Megan Condliffe, Tamzin Corcoran, Summer Harris, Helena Walker, Victoria Kini, Brogan Evans

Substitute:

Sarina Tamou, Abi Collins, Hannah Wicks, Becki Davies

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