After the excitement of several recent games, Salford supporters must surely be becoming used to being kept on the edge of their seats with the closely run encounters that have become almost regular occurrences, at least at the Salford Stadium.
From the Golden Point extra time victory over Wakefield, back in March, to last week’s progression to the next round of the Challenge Cup at the expense of Huddersfield when time was really the Red Devils’ greatest ally, the Salford players have had to hang on in, on a number of occasions, and this weekend’s clinching of the double over Hull was of very similar ilk.
The major issue nowadays is that the Reds are quite regularly winning this sort of game, which has not been the case on so many previous occasions, and that is something worth celebrating in itself.
Once again, on Sunday afternoon there were many teeth-clenching moments, particularly as the last quarter of the game wore on, because the visitors had shown themselves quite capable of scoring when they had the opportunity. Indeed, they had done so as early as the fourth minute, when they broke from deep in their own half to go the remaining length of the field with impressive handling and support play, to score in manner reminiscent of many a Salford try.
And thereby possibly hangs the reason for the closeness of so many matches. It would seem that a number of other sides, for whom wide expansive rugby has hitherto been kept to a premium, are now chancing their arm by embracing this style of attacking play to suit their own strengths. Such slick, well-rehearsed ploys are extremely difficult to defend against, as Super League teams in abundance discovered last season, and now the Red Devils are having to contend with such, themselves.
There is no gainsaying the originals, however, as Salford players continue to increase their armoury with even more options, as shown by their third and possibly decisive try, three minutes before the interval. That final spell of ten minutes had proved to be a purple patch for the home side, when they overturned the second of two, Hull, four-point leads both of which they held for eleven minutes, this one being with a scoreline of 6-10.
A number of repeated, short sets then enabled the Red Devils to build pressure before a Brodie Croft kick-through was taken by Deon Cross for a converted try, which restored their dominance. It was their second score of this period, however, which, for we spectators, stood out from everything else. What we saw was a seventy-metre kick downfield, followed by a thrilling and closely contested chase.
What we had to reflect upon before appreciating it fully was the skill, talent and understanding among the players. Few of us, probably, were expecting anything along these lines when the ball was passed to Marc Sneyd direct from the base of the scrum. Yet everyone of those involved knew exactly what was about to happen; everyone was on the same page. With all of the defending Hull players lined up at the scrum, the opportunity was wide open for the attempt.
Our number seven’s kicking game is much admired, and feared, throughout the league, but to place the ball so impeccably for it to slow almost to a standstill between the Hull try and dead-ball lines from such a distance took incredible skill, not to mention hours of practice.
The undoubted strength of the Salford team is the pace they have in the backs, and it was the ability of the two chasers, Ryan Brierley and Joe Burgess both, to outpace the sole Hull covering defender, showed that off to the hilt. Brierley it was, perhaps for some, surprisingly so, who was first to the ball, but it still needed grounding cleanly, and doing that at such speed required even more from the fullback. It would have been so easy to have scotched the chance, going at such a pace.
That try, and how it came about, put a whole different perspective on the game, and on Salford’s ability to score from a variety of means. Short, kick-chase tries often seem a little innocuous when compared to skilful handling moves and cleverly angled running. The thrill and excitement, talent and skill, as a result of the distance involved in this one, however, made it comparable to any score, by whatever means. It will certainly cause a few more headaches among opposing defences.
Being involved in so many close games is certainly honing the Red Devils’ talent for managing the game in the final quarter, and it is this, which, despite our anxieties in the stands, enables them to concentrate on nullifying their opponents’ further opportunities, something that they were far better at, this week, than the previous one.
Consequently, two second half tries kept them ahead, albeit on a couple of occasions by only two points, after a worrying start to the half, and then, after twice missing his first goalkicks in five games Sneyd calmly slotted over a drop-goal to give the side a two score cushioning, which kept them comfortable to the final whistle.