RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: LEEDS V SALFORD

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.

BRODIE CROFT LEAVES SALFORD

We can confirm that Brodie Croft has joined Leeds Rhinos for a club record transfer fee.

The 26-year-old joined the club from Brisbane Broncos in August 2021 and has completely transformed his career at the Salford Stadium.

Croft provided a phenomenal 32 try contributions in his debut campaign and was a driving force behind our top six finish.

A nasty head injury sustained in the Eliminator prevented the halfback from competing in our semi-final clash against St Helens, the following week – a game where he could have made a huge difference.

Despite the disappointment as a collective, Croft was awarded the coveted Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel for his stunning individual season.

At the Red Devils’ End of Season awards evening, the Aussie also picked-up the Players’ Player, Coaches’ Player, and Supporters’ Player of the Year accolades.

Also earning a place in the 2022 Betfred Super League Dream Team, alongside teammates, Ken Sio and Tim Lafai, Croft added the widely respected Albert Goldthorpe Medal to his list of achievements in 2022.

He continued to show his brilliance in 2023 by so often being the architect of big moments and big tries.

Showing class and commitment throughout his time at the club, we would like to thank Brodie for his efforts and wish him and his family all the best in their next step.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V WARRINGTON

It might have taken up to eighty-three minutes to get a result, but when it came the celebrations throughout the Salford stadium were comparable with having won a major trophy, as the Red Devils gained the two league points at the expense of the visiting Warrington Wolves, to go level with them on points, with only two games remaining.

Such was the importance of this particular fixture that the tension and intensity, prevalent throughout the match, led to rather more errors than might be expected at Super League level, yet on this occasion so closely matched were the two sides that these merely added to the excitement as to how the game would continue to unfold.  Twists and turns really do keep your concentration, and nerves, keyed up to the final whistle.

And when it eventually did come, what a tremendous way to secure the win – not with the anticipated drop-goal, but through a near length of the field, try of the match, which capped everything that had gone before, in terms of quality.  Slick hands moved the ball swiftly to the left wing, to put Joe Burgess in the clear.  That he was backed up the whole of the way by Sam Stone, a second row forward, was quite remarkable taking into account both the energy and pace needed to be in position to take the inside pass to score.

That it was the home side which had eventually taken the game was, in some respects, justice, for they had, on the whole, been the better of the two teams throughout, showing more ideas and organisation on attack, whilst defending their line, in particular, to greater effect.

This was evidenced in the three tries each team scored during the regular eighty minutes.  Warrington’s first two came from individual errors from our wingers, usually so reliable under the high ball, each dropping a keenly contested bomb giving the Wolves a dream start to each half.

Williams’s score between the posts, on 68 mins, was the one time they did successfully breech Salford’s goal-line defence, though, in fairness, there had been three occasions in the first half when their efforts were chalked off, the most noticeable being on the stroke of half time, when the video referee overturned the on-field decision to Thewlis’s grounding, in Salford’s favour.

In contrast, however, Ben Hellewell’s 22nd minute try came as a result of his beating his marker, in one of the quite few, man-on-man, line breeches in the whole game.  Then there was Brodie Croft, now coming back into the form he had shown to such dazzling effect last season.  His first, on 29 mins, followed two tremendous tackles, the first from Ryan Brierley on his opposite number Dufty, and then from the magnificent King Vuniyayawa and Chris Atkin which forced the ball out of the grasp of Ratchford.  Andy Ackers was on hand to collect it with next Atkin then sending out a wide pass to Croft in acres of space to score unopposed.

There was much more to his second, on 62 mins, than just a lucky ricochet.  Twice he put in short, low, end-of-set kicks to the Wolves’ line, the first of which forced a goal-line drop-out for a repeat set.  The second hit an opponent’s leg with Croft being easily the most alert person on the field to react by turning back on himself collecting the loose ball, and going over by the right-hand upright.

Salford too, had had a couple of disappointments, the first coming as early as the seventh minute, when a good attacking move to the right enabled Deon Cross to straighten up and go for the line, only for a first attempted tackle to be adjudged by the video referee as effective, owing to the fact that there was still contact between the defender’s hand and Cross’s foot as his ball carrying arm touched the ground.

All of which combined to make this a most riveting contest, of which both sides seemed to make heavy weather, in their endeavours to secure the points.  In the considerable heat of the day, however, it was the Salford players who always showed the greater desire and determination throughout and the fact that they had already had successful experience of Golden Point extra time, in their first home fixture with Wakefield, stood them in good stead for the final culmination.

Having to play extra time in the run up before another do-or-die encounter the following week, away at Hull KR, who had already had an extra two days’ recovery from their visit to Huddersfield, does not seem at all helpful, but such was the euphoria from, and the manner of, this win, that the boost it will have given the players, both jointly and individually, might just be enough to carry them through despite the adversities they face in the run-up to the game.  The fabulous support of our travelling fans will undoubtedly be a vital factor in keeping their spirits up throughout the encounter, so please all do get yourselves over there and make yourselves known, throughout.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: HUDDERSFIELD V SALFORD

A magnificent second half performance proved to be decisive in the Red Devils registering their first win since their victory over Castleford, back in early June, when they proved far too strong and, equally so, able to adapt in defeating the Huddersfield Giants.

So often in recent weeks fans have left games feeling a little disappointed after slender half time leads have been eroded by opponents as the second forty minutes has passed.  Not so on this occasion, however, with the visitors going from strength to strength, as the game unfolded.

There will have been little surprise, one would suspect, in the Salford ranks at this, with the strongest starting seventeen they have been able to field since the early rounds of the season, and only long-term absentee, Shane Wright, who would undoubtedly have claimed a spot in the team if fit, missing out.

From the very outset there was a sheer determination evident throughout the visitors’ ranks and they totally dominated the opening exchanges, with Huddersfield being put on the back foot throughout this period.  Indeed, Salford did cross for a couple of would-be tries, both of which were chalked off by referee, Liam Moore, and much against the run of play, it was the Giants who opened the scoring on 17 minutes, with a converted try.

This merely served to stiffen the Reds’ resolve, and, within three minute, they had erased it by means of Ryan Brierley’s steaming onto Brodie Croft’s impeccably delayed/timed pass to go over to the right of the posts, and although Huddersfield restored their lead by two points, it was incredible footwork from Sam Stone, following a great break by Andy Ackers, that put the Red Devils in front for the first time, on 32 minutes.

No-one was getting overly optimistic at half time, with the score line being one of the slenderest of recent weeks.  But the mood of the Salford players was unmistakable as they resumed for the second half, and with good reason: that fifteen minutes in the dressing room had determined a total change of tactics, which was to prove to be the undoing of their hosts, who had clearly done their homework on how to defend against Salford’s wide expansive handling moves.

This had proved to be quite effective in the first half, limiting the Reds to only their two tries.  The second half was to be quite different, however, with the boot of Marc Sneyd taking over.  Not only did he succeed with converting all of their five try total together with a late penalty after the hooter had gone, his tactical kicking opened up the home defence again and again.

The first came as early as the 42nd minute when a high kick was allowed to bounce and resulted in Ackers adding a second kick overhead for Stone to completely rock the Giants by grounding the ball a split second before it would have gone dead.

Not every kick brought a try but invariably brought rewards of a different variety, such as goal-line drop-outs, knock ons, and good field position.  One further one, though, did, with Ken Sio grounding in the corner for his long-awaited hundredth Super League try, while Chris Atkin put the icing on the cake after Kallum Watkins and Deon Cross had reminded us of just how good the Reds can be with ball in hand.

What will probably have pleased the coaching staff particularly was the fact that they conceded not a single point after the interval and the Giants had to be content with their one solitary try and couple of goals from the first forty.  Not that they did not come close on a couple of occasions, but the Salford defence was equal to each, with last ditch tackles denying them when it looked for all the world that they would score.

So the drought of league points has been brought to an end, and this could be just the victory that will ultimately prove to be the one which turns the season around.  It was certainly one of their best all round performances and for the full eighty minutes.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V WIGAN

After a month’s absence from their home venue at the Salford Stadium, the Red Devils returned from their travels, on Sunday last, to entertain the Wigan Warriors, in what turned out to be, since their move there, a record attendance of spectators, for this Round 16 encounter.

It must have felt like an extremely bold step for the Directors to target, publicly, the breaking of the previously existing record, but by so doing it pioneered the way for the newly publicly owned club to draw on its resources of bodies around the town to rally round and help drive up the numbers to ensure a successful outcome in this respect.

It was not only the attendance, however, which marked the occasion, as a whole-day event had been planned to celebrate both the first home fixture under the new ownership and also Armed Forces Day, which culminated with a triple shot from a cannon at the northwest corner of the ground, thereby rousing the assembled multitude to greater excitement than ever.

And so, even before a ball had been kicked, the day had proved to be a considerable success and significant occasion for all those present, for which every single person involved in its inception and organisation deserves the utmost praise and gratitude.

For a game against such a side as the mighty Warriors and on such a special occasion, however, the side would really have preferred not to have had two members of its spine missing through injury, as was the case with both Andy Ackers and Brodie Croft.  Not that that reflects in any way upon their replacements, Amir Bourouh and the versatile Chris Atkin, who both slotted in smoothly at hooker and half back, respectively.

To then lose a third member of that crucial spine, in Ryan Brierley from the fullback role, on 35 mins, however, was a blow which really took its toll alongside the others, and it was probably as a result of the reorganization necessitated by this that led to the visitors snatching a half time lead from the grasp of the reshuffled Salford side, three minutes from the interval.

Every minute of that first half, though, had been keenly contested, set-for-set, throughout the full forty-minutes, with the Red Devils standing up magnificently to the Wiganers throughout the first quarter of the game, with solid defence and strong carries forward.

It was, therefore, as late as the 21st minute, before the Warriors opened the scoring with an unconverted try, after a sustained period of pressure brought about by repeat sets on the back of goal-line drop-outs and occasional Salford touches of the ball.  It is testament to the Salford players that they were able to repel the attack for as long as they had done.

Despite having had some early pressure of their own, though, the Red Devils had not really had sufficient field position to ask many questions of the Wigan defence, but then produced their best attack of the half when fine interplay down the left between Joe Burgess, Brierley, and Tim Lafai, took them into their opponents twenty metre area. 

An obliging penalty helped them remain a little bit longer down there, and after Ken Sio had gone close to scoring, the ever-improving Ben Helliwell put himself in a great position to receive Marc Sneyd’s slick pass and go over for their one try of the game, which, with Sneyd’s conversion, put them in front.

Having had the half-time break in which to restructure and regalvanise the side after the loss of Brierley, the Reds went straight into the attack, and good handling forced a most promising-looking overlap, on 43 mins, only for a rather wild pass into touch to scupper the opportunity, when simple one-to-on passing might well have turned the game in their favour.

As it was, a Salford handling error, three minutes later saw Wigan draw further ahead with a try direct from the ensuing scrum, with two more scores coming at ten to twelve minute intervals, to stretch the score beyond the hopes of the Red Devils.

They nevertheless still continued to take the game to Wigan in the last ten minutes but so well-drilled is the Warriors’ defence that they were prepared to concede set-restarts, which would once have brought a penalty, right throughout the game, thus nullifying the Salford attack, until six minutes from the end, when another missed opportunity, this time on the left, was lost with a poor final pass to Burgess, who would have had a walk in.

Looking back on the second half, unlike the visitors who were clinical in their finishing, it was the Reds’ failure to capitalise on those two scoring opportunities which gave the final score such a significant difference.  Even had only one of them brought a try it would have put them into double figures, whilst scoring both and with conversions would have put them within a somewhat more creditable eight points.

Disappointing a result as it was, though, it could in no way detract from the impressive event the club had turned the day into being.  It is an occasion when everyone could feel proud to have been involved with the club and to have been in attendance to savour and enjoy it.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: CASTLEFORD V SALFORD

Fresh from their somewhat unexpected victory over Leeds Rhinos, the Castleford Tigers must have felt quite confident at delivering a repeat performance and result, when they entertained our in-form Salford Red Devils in Friday night’s Round 15 fixture, especially after having run their visitors extremely close on their visit to the Salford Stadium back in mid-April.

Certainly, the opening stanza seemed to reflect that as the Tigers, having received the ball from the kick-off promptly acquired four back-to-back sets, from a penalty early in the first set, and then head and feed at a scrum following a Salford forward touch of the ball, and finally a second penalty, to take them the full length of the remarkably short Mend-a-Hose Jungle field to apply strong pressure on the Red Devils’ goal-line defence.

Indeed, when the Reds went in front, from Rhys Williams’s score under the posts, in the eleventh minute, having secured the ball from an end-of-set kick along his wing, it was very much against the run of play, underlined by Castleford’s cancelling out four of the points he had gained them in less than a minute of the restart.

From that point onwards, however, the Tigers were barely in the hunt, as the slick, fast, entertaining handling of the Salford players opened up the home side’s defence time and again, with comparative ease, to take as 4-24 points lead going up to the half-time mark.

Probably because of their dominance for, by far, the majority of the game, many might be surprised at their conceding as many as ten points, all of them in the first half, even though their defence, in general, was well in control for almost the whole match.

There were, however, some rather unusual circumstances around the tries which the Tigers did manage to score.  The first was the one mentioned above, which might well have levelled the points at 6-6, but for Widdop missing the conversion.

One moment Tim Lafai was in possession of the ball on a clearing run towards the forty-metre line, when he lost control of it, and the next it was in the hands of Castleford’s, Quarequare, who had a clear run to the Salford try-line. In fact, the Salford players scrambled extremely well to prevent him going round to the posts, thus limiting the damage by two points.

The second came as much because of the hooter than any great fault with the Red Devils’ goal-line defence, with their backs to the actual clock.  With two tackles still to go in the set, the sound of the hooter coincided with the ball being in the hands of Miller, whose quick thinking saw him put in an unexpected short, overhead kick for it to be collected by Edwards with yet another clear run to the line.

Far more representative of the Salford defence, however, was the fact that it stood unbreeched by any planned move Cas’s attack could muster.  On the only other time they managed to cross the line, in the later stages of the second half, they were held up by a swarm of willing defenders.

The Salford attack, as far as entertainment was concerned, was probably, alongside the sixty pointer at Hull, and the similar forty-two against Huddersfield in the Cup, among their best of the season, which is unsurprising given the ideal, dry conditions.

The tries when they came were all thrilling to watch as the Reds clinically ripped open the home defence, and their variations made for all the more enjoyment.  The one which possibly caught most people’s eye was their third, when Brodie Croft took the ball to the line before feeding Deon Cross, whose combination of speed, clever swerved running, and dummy was good enough to take him the forty-five metres to the line.

Two rather surprising absentees in their armoury, though, was the lack of any set moves from the scrums, from which they preferred to rely on Lafai’s strong runs into the Tiger’s defence.

Other than those, there seemed a little less physicality than usual which was more than likely because it was not needed.  The one which really stood out was Jack Ormondroyd’s thirty metre charge downfield, direct from a Cas goal-line drop-out, midway through the second half.

With a massively important Challenge Cup quarter-final at Hull KR, next week, on their minds, though, it may be that they had decided that discretion was the most appropriate strategy for then, and if they were to come back from there still in the draw for the semi-final, any shortfalls from this particular game would be long forgotten.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: MAGIC WEEKEND SALFORD V HULL KR

Salford victories at Magic Weekend, have, over the years, been few and far between, with the last one coming with their 36-22 triumph over Leigh, back in 2017, so for the Red Devils to come away with the league points against a higher placed opposition was a most satisfactory outcome.  That it also came over a team, which had succeeded in notching up five successive wins against the Reds, made it all the more enjoyable.

The scoreline of 26-16 may appear to point to a closely fought battle, but, as occasionally happens, actually disguises the story behind it, for the Reds were by far the better of the two sides, and thoroughly deserved their win.  They dominated possession throughout the game, and whilst not at their best in so doing, respected possession better than the Robins.  Their discipline was far better, and they most sensibly sought to take advantage of many of their opponents’ indiscretions with the trusty boot of Marc Sneyd, who thereby added eight points to their tally, at a most crucial middle period of the game.

The combination of lengthy periods of possession, particularly in the opening spell, coupled with additiional penalties in their favour, meant that they held superior field position for great swathes of the game, to the extent that the Salford contingent behind the goals must have been most thankful when half-time came, and they then had the chance of seeing the game at much closer range.

For once, in recent encounters with the Robins, it was Salford, with Brodie Croft returning to his best form of the season, who had the match winner on their side, his break on 18 minutes setting up Joe Burgess for the try which cancelled out Hull KR’s opener which had come very much against the run of play.

The reduction in the number of players on the field between the 61st and 75th minutes was of somewhat unnoticed benefit to Salford, for even though it involved the loss of Deon Cross,, the extra space available to the pacey, slick Salford backs was exploited to the full, leading to two converted tries from Sio and Atkin to compensate for their earlier disappointments, as compared with one four-pointer from Hall.

It was, however, the missed chances which, had they gone Salford’s way would have opened up a far more commanding lead, that were, apart from the result, the most prominent feature of the game, with a succession of opportunities, for a variety of reasons, going begging.

It was early as the fourth minute that Chris Atkin was denied a try under the posts from a dummy-half scoot, by Hull’s defence, which turned out to be their greatest asset.  Without that they would have been in quite serious difficulties as they time and again turned up, and in numbers, to thwart Salford’s scoring opportunities, as further exemplified in the ninth minute, by their preventing Ken Sio from grounding in the corner, in a situation where we all would normally expect him to have scored.

Even Kallum Watkins’s much discussed effort, on seventeen mins, was prevented from being awarded as a consequence of the number of defending bodies being around him thus seemingly making his actual genuine grounding of the ball more questionable to the referee, while the same could also be said of Tim Lafai’s overturned score, because of issues around Burgess’s keenly challenged take of the ball in the air, with this time the video-referee making the call.

Perhaps the most surprising disappointment of all was when, in the 55th minute, Cross completely in the clear and with the unmarked Sio in support, was called back as a result of a collision in back field, which was determined to have affected his break.

Indeed, Salford looked the more dangerous from further out mid-field, than close up to the line, where they seemed to struggle to find the telling pass to unlock the well-drilled goal-line defence of the Yorkshiremen.  They looked more likely to find the key to doing this when moving the ball to the right flank, which was where most of those early, close calls came.

So yet again, the Red Devils were successful with the outcome, maintaining their march up the table to fourth, at the end of the weekend, and extending their number of wins, in all games, to six out of the last seven.  This latest one, however, could have further beneficial effect for their forthcoming visit to the home of the Robins, for the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup.  Success breeds success, and having now broken the winning run of their hosts-to-be, they can travel over there in some confidence to test their metal in the Challenge Cup.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: ST HELENS V SALFORD

It had all looked so promising, and confidence was surely high among the Salford fans, as they travelled over to the Totally Wicked Stadium for their clash with the Saints, on the back of four successive Super League victories, including an extremely rare win over Leeds Rhinos, at Headingley.

The Saints, on the other hand, had had a rather less profitable couple of weeks, and were turning out after having undertaken the somewhat demanding sojourn to the south of France, for their away fixture with Catalans Dragons, all of which were most positive indications for everyone to be encouraged.

 In the end, however, it is all about what happens on the day, and that went contrary to these optimistic expectations, for the Saints had their own expectations and aspirations for the game – the expectations of the current World Club Champions to perform to that level – and took control in the second half to record a 26-12 home victory.

Not that anyone would have even thought that that would happen as the Red Devils turned on the style and swept into a twelve-point lead after only sixteen minutes, with two excellent tries.  The first came in the fifth minute when a totally unexpected, but magnificent, break by prop, King Vuniyayawa, left the Saints defence in his wake, and with the fleet-footed Brodie Croft in support, he fed the stand -off to go in, under the posts.

Andy Ackers it then was, who, eleven minutes later, put Kallum Watkins away down the right and his inside pass to Ryan Brierley saw, along with Marc Sneyd’s second successful conversion attempt, him double the Salford advantage to twelve, which was sufficient for the remaining twenty plus minutes to give them a 6-12 half time lead.

The second half turn around to the home team might lead anyone to regard this as a game of two halves but perhaps, on this occasion an over-simplification, because everything in a game leads on to what follows – more obviously to the more immediate, but also, to an extent, in the longer term.  The loss, for example, of Shane Wright, after a mere few minutes of his introduction denied the team all that he has brought to each game over recent weeks, and also meant that others had to play considerably more minutes, and therefore tired far more quickly as a result.

In fact the roots for this not inconsiderable half time turnaround had been planted during the first half.  There will have been few in attendance or watching tv, on the day, who would have thought, as Sneyd struck the ball to convert Brierley’s try that the Red Devils would fail to add to their score for the remainder of the match, but that was what happened and was something that fed into the St Helens game plan

The visitors had been put under spells of pressure from the outset right through to their first score, and then again between their two tries.  The Salford players had stood up well throughout each of these, as indeed they did throughout some rather more-lengthy spells thereafter, but the fact that these periods of Saints’ dominance became more protracted placed greater and greater demands on the players in terms of energy and concentration.

That these periods soaked up so much time was in part due to the St Helens players’ ability to complete their sets but aided by an increasing number of penalties and set restarts, which went the way of the home side.  Penalties are seldom awarded against teams in possession, the significant  majority are against defenders and, as these defenders start to tire, so their tackling technique suffers and the penalties continue to accrue all the more.

By the time the second half had got underway, the continued Saints’ pressure had started to tell on the Reds, and they immediately conceded yet another penalty, this time whilst in possession, for an incorrect play-the-ball, as early as the third tackle of the half, with a St Helens try coming directly off the back of it.

No-one could possibly question the Red Devils’ effort and commitment at any time during the encounter – without that there was no way they would have limited St Helens to only twenty-six points – but, in the second half, their execution was well below the standards we have become used to, with handling errors from some most wayward of passes seemingly prevalent, and each one presenting the home side with even more possession with which to challenge the Salford defence.

Forthcoming results may well show that in this match St Helens have turned a corner in their season, and that others will find themselves facing the same onslaught of pressure piled upon them, but for Salford players it is important to learn from the outing and fix the elements necessary for a Challenge Cup victory over visiting Huddersfield, next week.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V CASTLEFORD

Despite another short turn around after their victory over Leigh, the previous Saturday, Salford Red Devils, yet again in front of the television cameras, on Thursday evening, cemented their place in the current top six, with a hard-fought victory over the improving Castleford Tigers.

It is a notable tribute to the team that on the back of their tremendous performances in the later stages of last season, the SKY Sports team have targeted showing the Red Devils’ matches with some quite considerable regularity over the start of this season, and although it was an evening with both defences on top, the team did not disappoint in terms of dedication, effort, and, above all, winning.

True, the scoreline was on the low side, but on a cold evening, in a biting wind, the players did extremely well to produce a performance full of attacking ideas and handling ploys, which on a summer’s day may well have brought about a rather higher return in terms of points.  No-one could deny the quality of their slick inter-passing, which tested the Castleford defence, time and again. They just needed to have retained possession in attack for longer than the solitary sets they produced in order to wear the Tigers’ defence down.

It was therefore down to their defensive effort of limiting the visitors to a solitary try in the third minute and thereafter holding them pointless for the remaining seventy-seven, which brought them the two league points.  It was not necessarily their midfield line-defence which was most noteworthy, more their scrambling defence which brought some absolutely valiant efforts from a number of individuals. 

As early as the 17th minute a magnificent triple effort, started by Sam Stone, and quickly supported by Andy Ackers and Ryan Brierley, prevented a Cas try being scored by Milner thanks to their holding him back, a whisker from the line.  Two minutes from the interval the timely arrival of Tyler Dupree, at full pace, was enough to force Eden onto the touchline, thereby making his considerable athleticism in the subsequent grounding, irrelevant.

Similar efforts continued into the second half, when first, Marc Sneyd’s last ditch tackle on Evalds caused the fullback to lose control of the ball has he sought to ground it between the posts on 49 mins, followed up some 14 mins later by another tackle on Milner just short of the line, this time by Wright, followed by the intervention again of Brierley to prevent his endeavours to roll over and ground the ball over the line.  

There were also some significant pieces of individual skill, which might on occasions go unnoticed, or which we sometimes take for granted.  Joe Burgess’s 8th minute, high level take of the ball in the air, which, on landing, he followed up with a half break through the visitors’ defence to clear the danger, was one such of these, likewise, Kallum Watkins’s midfield sideways run and offload, under pressure, to free up Brierley to continue the build up to Brodie Croft’s try under the posts, on 36 minutes.

Probably most eye-catching of all however was Brierley’s feat of collecting the ball on 52 minutes, behind his own line, to then turn the speedy Eden inside out with some incredible footwork and then cap it all with an offload to Ken Sio, as another Castleford player bore down on him.   Everything about it had the hallmarks of absolute class.

Even Salford’s two-try total could well have been double that, had they been just a little more fortunate.  The referral of Sneyd’s 23rd minute grounding to the video-ref saw it disallowed as it became apparent that, after his short kick through, the ball had bounced up to touch his arm, thus being adjudged as a knock on.  Similarly, 44 minutes into the second half, Sam Stone was denied a try with, this time, Chris Atkin having fumbled a loose ball forward in his attempt to gather it up.

Nevertheless, there was to be no denying the Red Devils for the two tries which were to count.  In what had been their best period that far, spanning the second quarter, it culminated in Brierley racing down the right wing, from Watkins’s pass, to put in the best, and most rewarding, kick of the half, for Croft to take a grasp of it as it stood up beautifully for him to go over for his team’s opener.

Shane Wright has been growing in notoriety over recent weeks having already notched up three tries against Hull (2) and Leigh.  With 56 minutes on the clock, he latched onto Sneyd’s beautifully timed short pass to surge over the line, between the posts and with Sneyd then having converted both tries, he had the opportunity to open up a two score, eight-point, match-winning lead, when Milner was penalised for tackling Ollie Partington without the ball, ten minutes from the end.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH:  LEIGH V SALFORD (2)

Even with a fully fit squad from which to select, it would have been regarded as a considerable achievement for the Salford Red Devils to have gone to the Leigh Sports Village for the second time in only two months, and come back with a victory, for, in the meantime, their hosts have been busily building up quite a reputation for themselves throughout Super League, with impressive victories over a number of sides including current Super League, and World Club, Champions, St Helens.

That, however, was far from the case, since the Red Devils’ squad had been so decimated over the interim period that, to an extent, the team had virtually picked itself, primarily on grounds of availability, thus making this Rivals Round success all the more impressive, and the sweeter.

Even the manner in which the game unfolded presented a number of significant adversities for them, not least the sin-binning of fullback, Ryan Brierley, on 48 mins, and it could not have come at a worse time with the Leopards having returned to the fray, following the half time interval, refreshed and ready to take the game to the Reds, at full steam.

So, as Brierly reluctantly trekked his way across the width of the field, there must have been many hearts in mouths, among the Salford Faithful, many of whom must have been expecting the very worst.  Damage limitation was about as much as one could expect, with the home side’s job having been made all the simpler, with the Reds, as a result, having to hold out for as long as possible against the numerical superiority facing them.

Yet, when the Salford fullback eventually returned to contest it was to an actually increased lead of two extra points, at 10-22, having eradicated Briscoe’s 53rd minute try, and expanded upon it with a Tyler Dupree special under the posts on 58 mins, from Marc Sneyd’s shrewd short pass, which he then converted.

Indeed, apart from hitting the post with his first, touchline attempt, Sneyd’s goalkicking was to prove crucial in the final result, and had they chosen to do so, they could have made their winning margin somewhat greater, with them deciding to run the ball on two late penalties close to the posts, rather than electing to take the kicks.

As might have been expected the Leigh side to took the field, most determined in manner, and although the Red Devils matched them in the opening arm wrestle, a misunderstanding between Danny Addy and King Vuniyayawa presented Leigh with their first attacking opportunity, which they clinically took by opening up an overlap on the left flank for Charnley to cross in the corner for a try, which was eventually increased to six points, five minutes later, with a penalty goal.

As was later to happen on a number of occasions, however, the game began to swing to the opposition, this time towards the Reds with their gaining three back-to-back sets from a combination of a Leigh handling error, penalty, and set restart giving them great field position and ample possession to attack the home line, culminating with a try from Ken Sio, from a typical Brierley kick into the corner.

That proved to herald one of those attacking purple patches which Salford fans had come to enjoy so frequently at the climax to last season, with the Red Devils enjoying plenty more possession to tease Leigh’s line-defence, before some fabulous footwork from second rower, Sam Stone, put him through to score his first points for Salford, against his former club. 

So often, in those halcyon days of summer 2022, it was the back-to-back tries, which sorely hurt opponents back then, and that is just what they served up on this occasion, with what certainly many Salford fans will have thought to be the try of the match.  

It started with man-of-the-match, Chris Atkin, not for the first time this season filling in at three separate positions over his time on field, dummying his way through a gap before handing on to the supporting Shane Wright, who went thirty metres up the field to set up Brodie Croft to sprint the remaining twenty to the posts, with his outpacing all despairing attempts to overhaul him.

Leigh’s second half recovery did narrow their deficit first to 10-16, and later 14-22, and kept them in the game, but the ascendency was, in the main, with the Red Devils, who, with a two-score winning margin could afford to keep their calm, run the clock down and keep the pressure on the Leopards.

Leigh’s final, last minute try, came far too late for it to make any difference to the outcome, with a mere eleven seconds left, at the final restart.  They had, nevertheless, contributed to an enthralling contest, which had ebbed and flowed from one to the other, and there is clearly little between the two sides, as the results of both encounters show. This is all to the good for both clubs and their fans, engendering a greater interest, and degree of competitiveness, in the locality, which will be continued once more, as the intensity of the competition for top six places hots up, just in time for their visit to the Salford Stadium, in mid-July.

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