RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WIGAN V SALFORD PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY (SAM POWELL TESTIMONIAL)

It might not have been the result most Salford fans will have hoped for, but the purpose of pre-season friendlies is rather more wide-ranging than the final figures on the scoreboard.  First and foremost, they are one of the concluding steps in the players’, and team’s, development on the road to Super League Round 1, which for Salford is less than two weeks away.

Trips to Wigan seldom bring victories for the visiting side, and the home advantage must certainly have given them a head start. In addition .there was also some added motivation for the Warriors from the fact that this was the testimonial game for their highly regarded half back-cum-hooker, Sam Powell.  Their desire to do justice to their much-admired teammate, will have been increased their desire to do well, in itself.

There are some games, in which the final score does not totally reflect the game as a whole, and this was somewhat true of Sunday’s.  The Red Devils’ many positives, unfortunately, were often over-shadowed by a disappointing outcome.  Marc Sneyd’s great interception on eight minutes – only two minutes after Wigan had taken the lead – would, on most similar occasions, have brought a score, but unfortunately, on this occasion he lost his footing and the opportunity to draw level had gone.

Indeed, by half-time, there were many spectators with the view that a twelve all draw would have been a fairer reflection of the contest, with Rhys Williams having twice crossed in the left corner, but having been denied on the first occasion by last ditch defending, and on the second by an obstruction, in the build-up.

The opening stages of the encounter had seen a physically dominant Wigan, with the lion’s share of possession, totally controlling field-position.  So many of the Red Devils’ sets were started in their own ten metre zone, and that is where the hard-yardage is really hard to come by, sapping energy and with end-of -sets kicks coming barely twenty-five metres out, meaning that the Warriors were regaining possession well away from their own line..

This, however, started to change midway through the half, with the visitors muscling up and matching their hosts physically, the pressure from which started to force errors from the Wigan players.  It was from one such of these that some excellent attacking play, on 33 minutes, brought the Reds their try from Deon Cross in the right-hand corner, too far out for Sneyd to goal.

Holding out, thereafter, to half-time would have been most beneficial but an ill-judged pass went to ground, in the final minute of the half, only to be gathered by French, who had a clear run to the line, and the score at half-time stood at 18-4, which was a reflection, predominantly, of the chances each team taken.

The opening stages of the second half saw a much more aggressive Salford side forcing further Wigan errors, two of which led to fine breaks which had them on the back-foot.  The first, on 49 mins, had the Warriors scrambling back after a final kick through, to hack the ball into the North Stand for a goal-line drop-out.  Amir Burrough’s break from dummy-half, four minutes later, set up yet another scoring opportunity in the left-hand corner, which, with the odd, slightly different option, might have brought another four, or even six points.

A little more patience immediately afterwards might still have brought some further reward, but unfortunately, ill-discipline set in with a succession of penalties accruing against them, and the Warriors did not scorn the opportunities they then had, of putting the score beyond the visitors.

True it was a game, and everyone always wants to win no matter what, but, even more important, it was a dress rehearsal, and everyone knows that a great dress rehearsal does not always portend a great opening night, any more than the exact opposite portends the alternative outcome.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH:  SALFORD V HULL

It was not quite the game we had been expecting.  Looking over the fixture list a few weeks ago, games against St Helens, Catalans, and Huddersfield loomed large on the horizon, but with Hull FC seemingly in free fall, at the time, this appeared to be one game we could possibly look forward to winning with rather more ease, particularly with it being a home fixture, and the rampant form that the Red Devils had shown in their most recent outings

In the event, however, this all proved to be a far cry from the game which ensued, with the visitors arriving with a rather more representative side than had been on view over recent outing and the benefit of this to their performance became increasingly evident.

Salford, themselves, might have been a shade off their lethal best, on the night, which to a certain extent is most understandable when taking into account the energy sapping travels to and from the south of France last weekend, coupled with the extremely short recovery period in the run-up to last night’s encounter.

Consequently, the scintillating attacks, to which have now become accustomed, were in somewhat short supply, and as the game wore on, the players had to adapt to a rather less flamboyant style in order to get the job done and bring home the two vital league points.

The opening exchanges had not, though, signalled anything different as they tore the Hull defence asunder with a blind-side move, which put Brodie Croft in the clear, but, with support available on either side of him, he attempted to dummy his way past Jake Connor, at fullback.  If he were to have that moment again, Brodie would probably take a different option, but with so many players alongside him, he possibly had too many from which to choose, on the spur of the moment.

Having seemingly been able to snuff out such a clear scoring opportunity did wonders for the motivation of the Humbersiders, and they seemed visibly to grow in confidence, from that point on.  It was, consequently, not until the eleventh minute that Salford notched their first points, which came on the back of sustained pressure, courtesy of a Hull goal-line drop-out.

Kallum Watkins, it was, who followed up his brace of surging runs at Catalans, the week before, when he was put through for another great run, to score close in, with Marc Sneyd converting.  Back-to-back tries have not been uncommon for Salford over recent weeks, but any thoughts of that happening in this game, soon evaporated, when it surprisingly turned out to be the visitors who were next to cross the line, after Salford had conceded a penalty to set them up to attack.

The Reds had a great deal to be thankful for goal-line drop-outs, as one having already led to one try, another such restart saw the ball moved along the line to Tim Lafai, who, in the absence of Joe Burgess, fed Rhys Williams, who made just as much of the opportunity as Burgess, himself, would have done to take the score to 10-6.

Finding that their normal routes to the try-line were being well policed by Hull defenders, the Salford players were required to draw upon every individual skill they had at their disposal, and a superb 40-20, on 26 mins, from Sneyd, laid a platform for the Reds, but sadly without anything coming of it.

Not so Sneyd’s opposite number Gale, who had been causing endless trouble for the Reds, with his end-of-set kicks.  Indeed, Hull’s opening try had come from a kick, and so too did their second, though only with the assistance of an extremely awkward bounce – directly into the hands of Fash – which gave the visitors an eyebrow-raising, 10-12, half time lead.

It was a much more determined home side which emerged for the second half, and the patience they needed to accompany this was certainly tested to the full, at vital times.  Six minutes from the resumption they got their reward, in the form of a try straight from a scrum 25m out, which concluded with Ken Sio crossing in the corner to restore their lead, at 16-12, with Sneyd’s conversion.

Deon Cross’s 57th minute try between the posts went some considerable way to settling nerves, especially when Sneyd added on the extras, and there was an air of expectation that this might be  the portender of several more.  Far from that, however, it was Hull, who next got on the score sheet.

A most unexpected Hull downtown kick into touch – usually used by teams in the lead to wind down the clock – worked magically in their favour, when Salford lost the ball inside their own half, and the Yorkshire side opened up the defence on their left wing to bring them back to within four points, and those nerves began to jangle again.

Not for the players, though.  They remained totally calm, and used their experience from previous matches to soak up the sets, and the remaining seven minutes, with a steadiness which must have disheartened their opponents, until a final Hull error from a kick gave possession back to the Red Devils who celebrated with Ryan Brierley’s try, to wrap up the game.

A tough game it most certainly was, but possibly just the right thing to prepare the players for the challenge which awaits them, on Monday, at Castleford.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: CATALANS V SALFORD

Once again, the Salford Red Devils have come out on top in their latest Super League match, and once again they have done so with the flair and flamboyance, which is fast becoming their trademark, throughout the sport.

Trips to the south of France, so often so daunting, have just been taken in their stride these last few weeks, commencing with that impressive win over Toulouse Olympique at a time when they were enjoying a resurgence in their fortunes, to be followed up this weekend with a comprehensive victory over the Catalans Dragons.

A combination of lengthy travelling concluding with a two and a half hour coach journey, temperatures of thirty-two degrees, passionate and vociferously partisan crowd, together with uncompromisingly physical opponents, are some of the elements of the trip to Perpignan all teams have to face and overcome.

Judging by their performance on the night, our squad just took it all in their stride – evidence indeed of the high level of preparation which must have been undertaken to this end.  Certainly, the levels of focus and confidence were there in the abundance that had been evident in several of their recent games.

No matter that they fell behind after eight minutes to  Davies’s four-pointer.  That was just accepted and brushed off as a mere blip, and, once the opening-period arm-wrestle, during which the Frenchmen threw everything they possibly could at the visitors, was out of the way, the Reds just cut loose and ran in the tries, with increasing frequency as the game proceeded.

As a spectacle the game as a whole was of a somewhat stop-start nature, predominantly as a result of the home-side’s endeavours to disrupt the flowing Salford attack.  Later, in the second half, the full physicality of the Dragons’ defensive effort led to Langi’s sin-binning, whilst a tackle from McIllorum was placed on report, and several others were penalised, all of which aided the Red Devils’ cause.

Although clearly in the driving seat, by the interval, Salford’s lead was not a match winning one by any means, and indeed, the Dragons had reasserted their authority in the closing stages of the first half, leading to a second try in the corner from Davies.  The resumption, however, saw a complete reversal of that with Salford building on the foundations they had already laid, and adding scores far in excess of most fans’ expectations.

It was of no surprise to anyone, after the past few weeks, to find that once again they did it in style, with intricate passing moves that have prised open defences, almost at will.  One variation, on Saturday, however, was that most of the tries came through the middle, as opposed to the two flanks, where the wingers and centres have been having a feast of opportunities.

This time, though, it was Marc Sneyd’s angled run towards the posts, and Brodie Croft’s combining of a dummy with clever footwork to dart through the resultant gap, having already noted that the  fullback was not in position, to go over between the posts, which showed the way forward.  Ken Sio and Deon Cross still managed, nevertheless, to increase their tallies with a try apiece.

Perhaps the most thrilling sight of the afternoon, however, was that of Kallum Watkins surging through a gap and then (twice) thundering, unopposed to score between the posts.  How the years seemed to fall away as he replicated the scores he used to register so frequently, but doing so now, thankfully, in a Salford shirt.

As long as you are running in tries, Chris Atkin and Ryan Brierley adding their touchdowns to the growing number, the requirement to defend lies dormant, until, that is, the opposition manage to secure possession, again.  At that point the Salford players were more than eager to roll up their sleeves and undertake the necessary amount of tackling, which consequently limited Catalans to a mere three scores – something the Dragons’ coaching staff are said to have found embarrassing.

If that is the case, then, one has to wonder why.  Just a mere glance back at recent results and winning margins should have been enough to forewarn them as to what to expect.  If there has been any embarrassment at all it is because Salford embarrassed Catalans by how well they played, not because Catalans themselves were embarrassing.  They just were not quite up to the task of thwarting the Red Devils’ flow of attacks.

And this weekend? Why just two important league games, and four even more important league points at stake, against Hull and Castleford.  Having forced their way into the top six, it is now imperative that the Red Devils do everything they can to retain it.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: CATALANS V SALFORD

Once again, the Salford Red Devils have come out on top in their latest Super League match, and once again they have done so with the flair and flamboyance, which is fast becoming their trademark, throughout the sport.

Trips to the south of France, so often so daunting, have just been taken in their stride these last few weeks, commencing with that impressive win over Toulouse Olympique at a time when they were enjoying a resurgence in their fortunes, to be followed up this weekend with a comprehensive victory over the Catalans Dragons.

A combination of lengthy travelling concluding with a two and a half hour coach journey, temperatures of thirty-two degrees, passionate and vociferously partisan crowd, together with uncompromisingly physical opponents, are some of the elements of the trip to Perpignan all teams have to face and overcome.

Judging by their performance on the night, our squad just took it all in their stride – evidence indeed of the high level of preparation which must have been undertaken to this end.  Certainly, the levels of focus and confidence were there in the abundance that had been evident in several of their recent games.

No matter that they fell behind after eight minutes to  Davies’s four-pointer.  That was just accepted and brushed off as a mere blip, and, once the opening-period arm-wrestle, during which the Frenchmen threw everything they possibly could at the visitors, was out of the way, the Reds just cut loose and ran in the tries, with increasing frequency as the game proceeded.

As a spectacle the game as a whole was of a somewhat stop-start nature, predominantly as a result of the home-side’s endeavours to disrupt the flowing Salford attack.  Later, in the second half, the full physicality of the Dragons’ defensive effort led to Langi’s sin-binning, whilst a tackle from McIllorum was placed on report, and several others were penalised, all of which aided the Red Devils’ cause.

Although clearly in the driving seat, by the interval, Salford’s lead was not a match winning one by any means, and indeed, the Dragons had reasserted their authority in the closing stages of the first half, leading to a second try in the corner from Davies.  The resumption, however, saw a complete reversal of that with Salford building on the foundations they had already laid, and adding scores far in excess of most fans’ expectations.

It was of no surprise to anyone, after the past few weeks, to find that once again they did it in style, with intricate passing moves that have prised open defences, almost at will.  One variation, on Saturday, however, was that most of the tries came through the middle, as opposed to the two flanks, where the wingers and centres have been having a feast of opportunities.

This time, though, it was Marc Sneyd’s angled run towards the posts, and Brodie Croft’s combining of a dummy with clever footwork to dart through the resultant gap, having already noted that the  fullback was not in position, to go over between the posts, which showed the way forward.  Ken Sio and Deon Cross still managed, nevertheless, to increase their tallies with a try apiece.

Perhaps the most thrilling sight of the afternoon, however, was that of Kallum Watkins surging through a gap and then (twice) thundering, unopposed to score between the posts.  How the years seemed to fall away as he replicated the scores he used to register so frequently, but doing so now, thankfully, in a Salford shirt.

As long as you are running in tries, Chris Atkin and Ryan Brierley adding their touchdowns to the growing number, the requirement to defend lies dormant, until, that is, the opposition manage to secure possession, again.  At that point the Salford players were more than eager to roll up their sleeves and undertake the necessary amount of tackling, which consequently limited Catalans to a mere three scores – something the Dragons’ coaching staff are said to have found embarrassing.

If that is the case, then, one has to wonder why.  Just a mere glance back at recent results and winning margins should have been enough to forewarn them as to what to expect.  If there has been any embarrassment at all it is because Salford embarrassed Catalans by how well they played, not because Catalans themselves were embarrassing.  They just were not quite up to the task of thwarting the Red Devils’ flow of attacks.

And this weekend? Why just two important league games, and four even more important league points at stake, against Hull and Castleford.  Having forced their way into the top six, it is now imperative that the Red Devils do everything they can to retain it.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V HUDDERSFIELD

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V HUDDERSFIELD

For a full forty minutes, the Red Devils shone as brightly as the afternoon’s sun in the middle of a heatwave, as they put behind them their disappointment at Headingley, last week, after only two minutes, in this week’s crucial victory over Huddersfield.

We all know, now, after weeks of experiencing and enjoying it, just what fabulous and scintillating rugby this current Salford team can produce.  That they did so in front of the Channel 4 cameras giving nation-wide terrestrial television coverage of those skills was as good as anyone could have hoped for.

Deon Cross, it was, who made the first initial break of the game, after slick handling had sped the ball from the left wing to the right, and the timing of his pass to Ken Sio gave the winger a clear run to the line, for the first score.

Joe Burgess’s punishing of a Giants’ error, with a near eighty metre break away try, five minutes later, was followed, with some incredible football and handling skills from Kallum Watkins, to ground Brodie Croft’s initial low kick through, which, with two successful Marc Sneyd conversions, put the Reds well in charge at 16-0, after only twelve minutes.

Indeed, the only blip in the first half proceedings came in the 18th minute, when Burgess was deprived of possession by McQueen who went over for an unconverted Huddersfield try, but further Salford scores from Ryan Brierley off an inside, overhead pass from Sio, and then ten minutes later Sneyd’s kick, this time into the in-goal area, being grounded by Tim Lafai, again converted by Sneyd, more than eradicated that.

So far, so good, but a completely different type of game awaited them in the second half, which required significant adaptation of their approach, and which they delivered most convincingly – all the more so as the half wore on.

An extended interval had certainly presented the Giant with sufficient time to address certain issues, and with the absence of Brodie Croft in the sin-bin for the first nine minutes, they returned determined to make their extra man paid dividends, whilst the Reds, realising the challenge facing them in those early stages, had a new focus of protecting that mid-match lead by means of a secure defence.

The extent to which they would be successful was indicated by the fact that even against twelve men, it was into the seventh minute before the visitors succeeded in crossing the Salford line, and although they scored once more, shortly after Croft’s return, they had been building towards it for some time.

That such a well-drilled side as Huddersfield then went almost thirty minutes without managing a further single point is great testament to the Reds’ resilience and commitment to the cause, especially when the game was played in a temperature of over thirty degrees, which was far more suited to attacking play than dour defending, but, with Huddersfield dominating possession, there was no alternative option for them.

The exuberance the Giants showed at pulling back to within ten points took them through the next ten minutes, aided by a number of Salford handling errors, but gradually their energy levels began to fall away, and the Reds began to look more and more in control of the situation.

The very sensible addition of two points, to stretch their lead to two converted scores, were attained as a result of Sneyd’s 63rd minute penalty kick from forty metres out, and provided the basis for him to be able to kick an important drop-goal, eleven minutes later, which probably sank the Giants’ spirits completely – their uphill struggle then becoming a three-score mountain to climb, in limited time and in still-climbing temperatures.

A final try from Harvey Livett, from yet another of Sneyd’s kicks, this time into the left corner, merely served to underline the Red Devils’ superiority, on the day.  Superior they were in flamboyance and entertainment, which was so delightful and thrilling to watch, but also superior in the hard work of tackling and defending, without which all the fine tries of that first forty might have been for nothing.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V HUDDERSFIELD

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V HUDDERSFIELD

For a full forty minutes, the Red Devils shone as brightly as the afternoon’s sun in the middle of a heatwave, as they put behind them their disappointment at Headingley, last week, after only two minutes, in this week’s crucial victory over Huddersfield.

We all know, now, after weeks of experiencing and enjoying it, just what fabulous and scintillating rugby this current Salford team can produce.  That they did so in front of the Channel 4 cameras giving nation-wide terrestrial television coverage of those skills was as good as anyone could have hoped for.

Deon Cross, it was, who made the first initial break of the game, after slick handling had sped the ball from the left wing to the right, and the timing of his pass to Ken Sio gave the winger a clear run to the line, for the first score.

Joe Burgess’s punishing of a Giants’ error, with a near eighty metre break away try, five minutes later, was followed, with some incredible football and handling skills from Kallum Watkins, to ground Brodie Croft’s initial low kick through, which, with two successful Marc Sneyd conversions, put the Reds well in charge at 16-0, after only twelve minutes.

Indeed, the only blip in the first half proceedings came in the 18th minute, when Burgess was deprived of possession by McQueen who went over for an unconverted Huddersfield try, but further Salford scores from Ryan Brierley off an inside, overhead pass from Sio, and then ten minutes later Sneyd’s kick, this time into the in-goal area, being grounded by Tim Lafai, again converted by Sneyd, more than eradicated that.

So far, so good, but a completely different type of game awaited them in the second half, which required significant adaptation of their approach, and which they delivered most convincingly – all the more so as the half wore on.

An extended interval had certainly presented the Giant with sufficient time to address certain issues, and with the absence of Brodie Croft in the sin-bin for the first nine minutes, they returned determined to make their extra man paid dividends, whilst the Reds, realising the challenge facing them in those early stages, had a new focus of protecting that mid-match lead by means of a secure defence.

The extent to which they would be successful was indicated by the fact that even against twelve men, it was into the seventh minute before the visitors succeeded in crossing the Salford line, and although they scored once more, shortly after Croft’s return, they had been building towards it for some time.

That such a well-drilled side as Huddersfield then went almost thirty minutes without managing a further single point is great testament to the Reds’ resilience and commitment to the cause, especially when the game was played in a temperature of over thirty degrees, which was far more suited to attacking play than dour defending, but, with Huddersfield dominating possession, there was no alternative option for them.

The exuberance the Giants showed at pulling back to within ten points took them through the next ten minutes, aided by a number of Salford handling errors, but gradually their energy levels began to fall away, and the Reds began to look more and more in control of the situation.

The very sensible addition of two points, to stretch their lead to two converted scores, were attained as a result of Sneyd’s 63rd minute penalty kick from forty metres out, and provided the basis for him to be able to kick an important drop-goal, eleven minutes later, which probably sank the Giants’ spirits completely – their uphill struggle then becoming a three-score mountain to climb, in limited time and in still-climbing temperatures.

A final try from Harvey Livett, from yet another of Sneyd’s kicks, this time into the left corner, merely served to underline the Red Devils’ superiority, on the day.  Superior they were in flamboyance and entertainment, which was so delightful and thrilling to watch, but also superior in the hard work of tackling and defending, without which all the fine tries of that first forty might have been for nothing.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: LEEDS V SALFORD

At the time, it all looked so familiar – a journey to Leeds in such a positive frame of mind after that tremendous victory over St Helens, followed by the re-awakening to reality of most trips to Headingley Stadium, with Leeds ramping up an eighteen lead, which they later expanded to thirty-two.

With hindsight, however, it was not like that in its entirety, for that was only half the tale.  True the Rhinos made an extremely good start, tearing through the visitors’ defence in the very first set of the game, to notch their first six pointer after only forty-five seconds, owing to a missed tackle on the left edge during the build-up.

Six minutes later, Dan Sarginson, with the sun glaring into his eyes, slightly misjudged the flight of the ball from a high bomb, which gave Myler, who was moving forward onto it at pace, the chance he needed to take it on the full for their second, whilst some rather soft tackling on Martin allowed the Leeds second-rower to force his way over the line to register an eighteen points lead on fifteen minutes, having been aided by a penalty and two set restarts.

Even then, despite what the scoreboard showed, it had not been only Leeds, throughout that opening period.  Five minutes into the game, and with the score at only six points, Deon Cross appeared to have scored, only for it to be ruled out owing to a Salford touch forward in flight, from the preceding high kick.  Indeed, the number of tries the Reds had disallowed over the whole game, would, if converted, have been enough to have put them in position to win the game.

‘Nearly’, and ‘almost’, even ‘disputed’, mean nothing, however, in terms of points, so it was not until the first quarter of the game had elapsed that the Reds started to get back into it.  In fact, it was on the twentieth minute that Salford’s first points were gained, with an end-of–set kick being caught and passed along the line to left winger, Joe Burgess, in space, for him to cross in the corner.

Eight minutes later, a kick into the corner forced a Leeds goal-line drop-out, which preluded a passing move of the slickest of handling, which started by going to the left, at which point it reversed and went from left to right, ending with a wide pass from Watkins to Ken Sio, to reduce the Rhino’s lead further.

Without a successful conversion attempt for either of the two tries, though, overtaking Leeds’s eighteen points was always going to be an uphill battle, and if only Brodie Croft’s dance through their defence, on 34 mins, had been grounded to the referee’s satisfaction, it would have reduced it by the full six points, being, as it was, close to the posts.

They therefore had to wait until the 49th minute, for Croft to repeat his effort, this time having a much easier, clear-cut act of grounding, and at this point the Rhinos were really shaken.  The whole story of the second half, thus far, had been that of total Salford dominance, as, in fact, had the final quarter of the first half.

Virtually every set of possession, during the second forty had seen the Red Devils charging upfield, making in the region of sixty to eighty metres in each set, to the extent that the Leeds players looked almost completely out of energy, and there for the taking.  So confident were the visitors that they even scorned taking a penalty kick at goal, from directly in front of the posts, and even though they failed to score from the resultant set, it seemed almost inevitable that they would take the lead before long.

Sadly, this proved not to be the case, and a penalty goal took Leeds to six points ahead, and suddenly the balance of the game seemed to have swung the other way.  The Rhinos’ defence now appeared more resolute, and their reserves of energy had obviously been replenished by the reintroduction of some of their starting players, and others who had been spelled during the game.

Consequently, when an attacking pass to the right was intercepted by Super League’s top poacher, Handley, to race ninety metres for a try, the Salford players must have found this a little dispiriting, so much so that their grip on the game began to lessen.

Another Leeds penalty goal to accompany the sin-binning of Sitaleki Akauola, increased the home lead to 28-14, and the twelve remaining Salford players were then unable to hold out against Martin’s scoring his second try, which alongside his highly successful goal-kicking, had done so much to damage Salford’s aspirations.

So the Headingley jinx remains, but there was just so much that was positive, in that mid-match period.  Indeed, for a neutral spectator it must have been a wonderful whole afternoon’s spectacle of attacking rugby from both sides – presumably exactly what had been envisaged by those who had first advocated and instigated summer rugby – and many of us were there to enjoy it.  Winning would, of course, have capped it all, but maybe we should not let the result completely deprive us of the enjoyment and excitement our team’s performance contributed to such an entertaining match.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: LEEDS V SALFORD

At the time, it all looked so familiar – a journey to Leeds in such a positive frame of mind after that tremendous victory over St Helens, followed by the re-awakening to reality of most trips to Headingley Stadium, with Leeds ramping up an eighteen lead, which they later expanded to thirty-two.

With hindsight, however, it was not like that in its entirety, for that was only half the tale.  True the Rhinos made an extremely good start, tearing through the visitors’ defence in the very first set of the game, to notch their first six pointer after only forty-five seconds, owing to a missed tackle on the left edge during the build-up.

Six minutes later, Dan Sarginson, with the sun glaring into his eyes, slightly misjudged the flight of the ball from a high bomb, which gave Myler, who was moving forward onto it at pace, the chance he needed to take it on the full for their second, whilst some rather soft tackling on Martin allowed the Leeds second-rower to force his way over the line to register an eighteen points lead on fifteen minutes, having been aided by a penalty and two set restarts.

Even then, despite what the scoreboard showed, it had not been only Leeds, throughout that opening period.  Five minutes into the game, and with the score at only six points, Deon Cross appeared to have scored, only for it to be ruled out owing to a Salford touch forward in flight, from the preceding high kick.  Indeed, the number of tries the Reds had disallowed over the whole game, would, if converted, have been enough to have put them in position to win the game.

‘Nearly’, and ‘almost’, even ‘disputed’, mean nothing, however, in terms of points, so it was not until the first quarter of the game had elapsed that the Reds started to get back into it.  In fact, it was on the twentieth minute that Salford’s first points were gained, with an end-of–set kick being caught and passed along the line to left winger, Joe Burgess, in space, for him to cross in the corner.

Eight minutes later, a kick into the corner forced a Leeds goal-line drop-out, which preluded a passing move of the slickest of handling, which started by going to the left, at which point it reversed and went from left to right, ending with a wide pass from Watkins to Ken Sio, to reduce the Rhino’s lead further.

Without a successful conversion attempt for either of the two tries, though, overtaking Leeds’s eighteen points was always going to be an uphill battle, and if only Brodie Croft’s dance through their defence, on 34 mins, had been grounded to the referee’s satisfaction, it would have reduced it by the full six points, being, as it was, close to the posts.

They therefore had to wait until the 49th minute, for Croft to repeat his effort, this time having a much easier, clear-cut act of grounding, and at this point the Rhinos were really shaken.  The whole story of the second half, thus far, had been that of total Salford dominance, as, in fact, had the final quarter of the first half.

Virtually every set of possession, during the second forty had seen the Red Devils charging upfield, making in the region of sixty to eighty metres in each set, to the extent that the Leeds players looked almost completely out of energy, and there for the taking.  So confident were the visitors that they even scorned taking a penalty kick at goal, from directly in front of the posts, and even though they failed to score from the resultant set, it seemed almost inevitable that they would take the lead before long.

Sadly, this proved not to be the case, and a penalty goal took Leeds to six points ahead, and suddenly the balance of the game seemed to have swung the other way.  The Rhinos’ defence now appeared more resolute, and their reserves of energy had obviously been replenished by the reintroduction of some of their starting players, and others who had been spelled during the game.

Consequently, when an attacking pass to the right was intercepted by Super League’s top poacher, Handley, to race ninety metres for a try, the Salford players must have found this a little dispiriting, so much so that their grip on the game began to lessen.

Another Leeds penalty goal to accompany the sin-binning of Sitaleki Akauola, increased the home lead to 28-14, and the twelve remaining Salford players were then unable to hold out against Martin’s scoring his second try, which alongside his highly successful goal-kicking, had done so much to damage Salford’s aspirations.

So the Headingley jinx remains, but there was just so much that was positive, in that mid-match period.  Indeed, for a neutral spectator it must have been a wonderful whole afternoon’s spectacle of attacking rugby from both sides – presumably exactly what had been envisaged by those who had first advocated and instigated summer rugby – and many of us were there to enjoy it.  Winning would, of course, have capped it all, but maybe we should not let the result completely deprive us of the enjoyment and excitement our team’s performance contributed to such an entertaining match.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V CATALANS (2)

 

It was back in early April – Easter Monday to be precise – when the Catalans Dragons paid their first visit of the season, to the A J Bell Stadium.  It would be fair to say that their performance, and the result, were far from flattering to the Red Devils with the visitors from the south of France returning home with a comfortable 10-36 victory.

How quickly fortunes can change, with Sunday’s latest encounter providing an almost complete reversal of that first occasion, with the Frenchmen, this time, managing to cross only once, for the first score of the afternoon.  From that point onwards, the Salford players set about avenging that earlier defeat, by turning in one of their most valiant defensive performances of recent seasons, rendering the Dragons completely pointless for the remaining seventy-two minutes.

It was not as though they did not have ample opportunity to rack up points, by the dozen, with the opening stages of each half being completely overshadowed by their dominance of both possession and field position.

It is invariably any team’s attack which provide spectators with their main source of entertainment and enjoyment.  Tries, tries, and more tries is what fans of every club want on behalf of their club, but on Sunday the roars of encouragement, appreciation, and approval, for the Red Devils, when they finally secured the ball, eight minutes into the second half, together with delighted and relieved applause, was equal to that afforded to their favourites on any of the scores, they eventually produced.

And deservedly so, for had they not Just tackled themselves to a standstill, standing resolute in the face of all the odds, by withstanding no less than seven back-to-back sets, a number of these coming on the final tackle of the set.  That a couple of minutes later they had to repeat this brave endeavour for a further couple of sets, only served to underline the extremely high quality of their defensive line as they stood shoulder to shoulder against the seemingly relentless onslaught of Catalans’ attacks.

Yet the longer the visitors held possession, the more confident both Salford players and supporters became that they would not manage to score.  There were some remarkably close shaves, however.  Who, for example, can forget that incredible try saving tackle of Joe Burgess, on 28 mins, which was worth at least four points to his side, in its denial of that amount to the Dragons?

The supporters themselves also made their contribution to the win, with their vocal support, particularly through the most tortuous phases.  Their persistent, and constant, encouragement to the team, with their singing and shouting, giving the players the determination to see out the adversity with which, at that time, they were beset.

There was no mistaking the Dragons’ presumption that they could wear down the Reds by the sheer size, and aggression, of their much revered pack, but the Salford forwards stood up to them with a courage and a passion that cemented them together as a unit, so that, when they ultimately did gain possession, their far greater mobility enabled them to serve their halves and threequarters with a quality of possession that they had denied their opponents.

Of course, there were tries.  You do not accrue thirty-two points without scoring some, and the Reds went over, on five occasions.  Ken Sio led the way, with a hat-trick, after a few weeks’ drought, owing to a paucity of opportunities.  Andy Ackers’s scoot, followed by the most scintillating of passes to Brodie Croft, put the Dragons’ tormentor-in-chief, in the clear, before the defenders had even realised what was happening.

Then there was Jack Ormondroyd.  His back-to-back tries, at Warrington, were extended by yet another on 78 mins, when Marc Sneyd’s kick was recovered by Ryan Brierley for the big prop to rampage through, for his third of the season.

On top of that there were further near misses.  Brodie Croft’s overhead kick, on 37 mins, unfortunately bounced away from him, thereby denying him a clear opportunity.  A final pass to Sio, from Deon Cross, on 49 mins, after a mercurial break upfield, was ruled forward, which otherwise would have saved his side from their second salver of second half defending duties, that so inspired their fans.

Nevertheless, the Red Devils still had enough in their armoury to see off one of the most feared teams in Super League, with Championship ambitions for the end of the season, and in conditions, which should have suited the visitors far more than they did the home side.  The Salford players now need to take this weekend’s experience with them, as they travel, for their very first Super League visit to Toulouse, next weekend.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: HUDDERSFIELD V SALFORD, MAGIC WEEKEND

After two of their most impressive wins of the season, over Wakefield and Warrington, Salford Red Devils travelled to Newcastle for this season’s Magic Weekend Supported by SKY O, to take on Huddersfield with the hope that they would not only be able to avenge their loss in the away game, earlier this season, but also extend their run of victories to three, for the first time this season.

The Red Devils have become well-practised in the art of backing up one win with a second, as has happened on three occasions, Castleford & Toulouse, Leeds & Castleford, and the aforementioned Wakefield & Warrington, but have not, so far, been able to put a run of three or more together.

Unfortunately, that proved to be the case once more, at St James’s Park, with the Giants being the ones to walk tall, at the final whistle.  It was a lack of consistency throughout the encounter, which was to be the Reds’ downfall, with at least one period in which they were totally dominant  the with opposition on the rack, but there were too many occasions where they lost concentration and fell away.

The roasting conditions, out on the pitch, were not helpful to any side, but, as always, were the same for both teams, and with a lighter, more mobile pack, one might have expected that they would have suited Salford rather more than the aptly named Giants.  That, however, did not prove to be the case, and a somewhat hesitant start handed the initiative to the opposition.

The game was barely three minutes old, when a lost ball in a tackle, close to the Giants’ line, gifted them possession, and a towering end-of-set kick caused a little hesitancy in the mind of fullback, Ryan Brierley, with his being beaten to the catch by the oncoming Toby King, who took it on the full to race over between the posts.

In fairness to the Salford players, their response to this setback was admirable as they built up pressure on the Huddersfield line, and were most unfortunate not to score from Marc Sneyd’s kick into the in-goal area, with the ball just bouncing away from Rhys Williams’s hand as it came down to ground it.

A try at that point would have been most beneficial, but, as it was, things just deteriorated further with the Yorkshire side taking advantage of a seven-tackle set to proceed down-field and double their score with a try to the right of the posts.

With Huddersfield’s confidence sky-high by this point, it took some considerable endeavour in the heat, and some lengthy spells defending their line, on the part of the Salford players  to prevent their going even further behind, but it was only a matter of time before the Giants got their third score of the afternoon, from McQueen, in the 26th minute.

At long last the Reds did get some possession in good field position and were able to apply some pressure of their own and show a response, which they did with some seemingly off-the-cuff inter-passing, and switches of direction, until Deon Cross was able to hand-off a wrong-footed defender and open the Reds’ account, on 33 minutes.

Had they been able to retain this twelve-point deficit to half time, the outcome might have been very different, but the last five minutes saw repeated assaults on the Salford line, culminating with the loss of the ball, after only one tackle, affording the opposition one extra chance, with less than a minute remaining, – a chance they did not scorn.

How different things proved to be at the start of the second half, with the Red Devils coming out of the blocks determined to put right things, which had gone awry, earlier.  Secure in the belief that, particularly in those conditions, even an eighteen-point lead could be overturned, they started to build pressure of their own, but it was the individual contribution, and incredible footwork of Brodie Croft, which were to be the undoing of the Giants, in the first fifteen minutes.

Twice, on 47 and 51 minutes, he put himself in space to employ the most bewildering of tricky runs to bring the Reds back into the game.  The first came from a speedy play-the-ball by Sam Luckley, which enabled dummy-half, Andy Ackers, to scoot towards the defensive line, before passing to Croft, who sped through a gap to round Lolohea and score by the posts.

Four minutes later, the same threesome of Ackers, Luckley and Croft combined again, with this time Croft once again breaking the defensive with a slight change of direction, drawing in Lolohea, and then passing inside to the rampaging Luckley who held off all challengers to go in under the posts.  His celebration, on doing so, was such that it drew the attention of one, Alan Shearer, whose subsequent tweeting of the try, and afters, has, to date, brought just under two thousand, eight hundred ‘likes’.

One week earlier, a similar turnaround in momentum was sufficient to bring home the spoils to Salford.  Sadly, on this occasion, there was no repetition of that, with the Giants’ regrouping, playing percentages, and managing the remaining time, well.  Consequently, it was they, and not Salford, who went on to add one final try to make the game safe.

On that previous occasion, the Red Devils had built up an early eight-point lead, which was, subsequently, the winning margin.  This week, they did not have any early points to draw upon, and in that, thereby, lies a lesson which, hopefully, the whole squad will be quick to learn, even more hopefully, in time for next Sunday’s home fixture with Catalans Dragons.

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