RED DEVILS LIFT SILVERWARE IN INAUGURAL SEASON
Orrell St James’s 8 Salford Red Devils 20 Match Report
Salford Red Devils ladies team defied all the odds that must have been stacked against their doing so, at the start of the season, by winning the League Cup, in this, their very first year, a mere eight months after their inception.
What an absolute triumph this is for a group who were still getting to know one another when the season kicked off, a mere five months ago, but in that time they have gelled together perfectly and developed into an almost unstoppable attacking force, seemingly against all opponents within their league.
How fitting it was, therefore, that their incredible accomplishment should have been achieved on the very day that the much-celebrated Lionesses put the whole concept of women’s sport into a far greater spotlight than it has ever been before. They just happened to have been beaten to the punch by the Red Devils.
It was in a quite different manner, however, from virtually all their previous victories, to which the players had to adapt, in order to ensure they secured their just desserts. Not on this occasion, then, was there to be any high-scoring, lavish, breath-taking attacking play; it was far too close for that, and closer even than the scoreline would suggest. No, this was, foremost, a victory of character over adversity.
No-one can ever predict how a game will unfold, but just one look at the pitch was enough to portend that this would undoubtedly be a game of two halves, with an incline from end to end comparable with that at the infamous Mount Pleasant, Batley.
Having the advantage of the slope for the first half, the Salford players had the clear task of setting as high a score as possible in the hope of putting themselves out of sight by the turnaround – something which they had had plenty of practice of doing, over the course of the season. To that end, the fact that it was they who kicked off down the slope, was extremely helpful, with the Orrell defenders losing the ball early in the first set, and consequently setting up the Reds with possession in great field position.
Indeed, the game was less than two minutes old when fullback, Luci McKeown, performed a timely pirouette, close to the line, to foil a couple of defenders to go over on the right-hand side, and that was even after Brogan Evans had been held up, under the posts. As far as the goal kick was concerned, though, it mattered not that the kick was further out than it might have been, as Demi Jones was on target to turn the four into six.
Four minutes later, and with the Orrell team still having hardly touched the ball, a superb, wide pass by Taz Corcoran found the unmarked Alex Simpson, and the centre went through for the second score, this time too far out on the left for a successful conversion attempt.
Whether it was carelessness, or over-confidence, at this point, the ball was lost quite quickly after the resumption, and the opposition’s dearth of possession started to be balanced out, so it was not until the 23rd minute that the Red Devils were able to extend their lead. Kayleigh Bradshaw was tackled virtually on the Orrell try-line, and her quick play the ball caught the defence out by the ball being moved to the blindside, where right centre, Sade Rihari, used her power and pace to get over for what was to be the final score of the half, extending their lead to sixteen points by Jones’s second conversion.
We have often said that a half time lead of eighteen points is quite overturnable, and there will have been many who had been hoping for rather more cushioning by further points, as the teams resumed for the second forty. This, however, had been recognised by coach, Chris Bates, who had instilled upon is charges, that the fate of the trophy would now rest with the quality of their defence.
How right he was. The Orrell St James players were completely familiar with the exigencies of their pitch, and how to use the slope to their advantage – only one of the adversities Salford were to face, and thankfully overcome, during the following forty, with the Reds pinned down in their own twenty metre area, for lengthy periods, desperately endeavouring to repulse the waves of attack hurled at them.
They had had a foretaste of this in the closing stages of the first half when they had been tirelessly, but unsuccessfully, tested by their opponents, who did, though, go close on a number of occasions. Easy to do when your line speed is aided by a slope, but much more challenging to have to keep doing, up a hill.
Yet, with Bates’s instructions still ringing their ears, that is exactly what they did. If it moved, it was tackled, and after an early foray with an attack of their own, they certainly had plenty of tackling to do. Eight minutes of exceptional defence was eventually broken by Orrell’s first try, bringing the score to 16-4.
Fortunately, the Salford players still had enough energy left to launch a counter attack, and on 56 mins, Player of the Match, Riahari, cut through, drew the defence before sending out an excellently timed pass to her winger, Lauren Ellison, who crossed in the corner, restoring the 16 point advantage.
The remainder of the game was merely one set of Orrell attacks after another, as with so little ball, the Salford players appeared a little nervous on the few occasions it came their way, and consequently lost it, often, quite early in the tackle count.
So, ultimately, it was all down to the quality of the defence, thereafter, with Salford forwards as, always, having bearing the brunt of the work, as the Orrell forwards kept up constant drives at the Salford line. Although they had their line breached on one further occasion, on 64 mins, and the final fifteen minutes peppered with a few close shaves, time was gradually moving in favour of the Red Devils side, and indeed those sixteen points did prove to be unoverturnable.
So, the ladies got to bring back to Salford the first piece of silverware since they won the Championship Treble in 2008, and doing so in what was, for them, a most novel and unfamiliar manner. Whole-hearted congratulations to them, and all those connected with the team, who have performed so marvellously, each in their own particular way. Having won one trophy now, there is always the up-coming Championship Play Offs, in which to test themselves, later in the year.
Luci McKeown, Lauren Ellison, Sade Riahari, Alex Simpson, Katie Garry, Louise Fellingham, Demi Jones, Megan Condliffe, Tamzin Corcoran, Abi Collins, Helena Walker, Kayleigh Bradshaw, Brogan Evans
Hannah Wicks, Jena Monks, Darcey Price, Yasmin Parton-Sotomayor, Laura Bent, Casey Naylor, Gabrielle Chaplin
Steve McCormick – Headline photograph showing quality of Salford’s defence from Helena Walker, Darcey Price, and Brogan Evans