It must have seemed the ideal opening fixture to the Leeds Rhinos, when first announced – a home game against a Salford side which had had to overcome a somewhat more turbulent close-season than most, whilst the fact that two of its former stars, Andy Ackers and Brodie Croft, were now resplendent in the ranks of the new-look Rhinos side, added even more spice to the occasion.
Fast forward to the seventieth minutes of the game itself, however, and that assumed, initial exuberance must have soured considerably, with the Red Devils having put all of the above behind them, taken the game by the scruff of the neck, and enforced their domination onto it to the extent that they were, by this point, in the lead at 14-16, having held pole position on the scoreboard for around three-quarters of the encounter.
It had all been down to the sheer determination, commitment, self-belief both as a team and individually, and clear understanding, adherence to, and confidence in the game plan, which for much of the time appears to have worked like a dream. It started with an immaculate kicking game from scrum half, Marc Sneyd, which had the home side’s defence in all sorts of trouble, turning them around, scrambling to defuse them, and even causing handling errors in recovery.
He, it was, who put in the neatest of angled kicks, behind the defence, for fellow halfback, Cade Cust, out of all the debutants on view that evening, to be the one to open the scoring by grounding between the posts, with Sneyd converting for a six point lead.
Oli Partington, surprisingly, was Salford’s other try scorer; ‘surprisingly’ because in his role he gets little opportunity of doing so. On this occasion, however, Leeds’s defensive line opened up for him, seemingly convinced he was going to send out a pass to the left. His speedy reaction of exploiting same opening brought him his first score in Salford colours.
Not that there were not adversities to overcome. Two sinbinnings meant that the Reds were down to twelve men for ten minutes in each half, and indeed Leeds scored two of their three tries during those two spells. The first saw the Rhinos utilise the extra man in getting Handley in the clear close to his own line, whilst the other came from powerhouse, Lisone, who supported a half break close to the line and, from there, there was no chance of stopping him putting the Rhinos ahead at this crucial point of the game.
What none of this does, however, is reflect the incredible defensive effort the Salford players put in right throughout the game. Two periods, one in each half, had the home side camped on the Red Devils line for seemingly interminable lengths of time, without any possession to give them some little respite, as Leeds got repeat set after repeat set, yet ending it all with absolutely nothing to show for either.
In the end, it was down to an extremely high penalty count in favour of the Rhinos. Not only did this give Martin chance to add to his hundred percent goal kicking performance, on other occasions it added to the energy-sapping defending the Reds had to do. Undoubtedly, the coaching staff will have this in hand a will work to eliminate this particular snag. All the other signs are that the team could cause some real upsets as the season progresses.