RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WIGAN V SALFORD

Many have been the times in the past when Salford fans, making their homeward journey from the DW Stadium, would have embraced a scoreline of only a four points deficit, as a considerable success, in comparison with the hefty defeats of yester-year.  How times have changed in the fortunes of the Red Devils, and the expectations we fans now have of them, when so many of us will, last Friday, have travelled home feeling disappointed at not having won.

For make no mistake, this was a game that was within the team’s grasp of victory, during which they challenged and contested their hosts in every quarter, taking charge of proceedings after the first ten minutes, to go in at the interval, somewhat unrepresentatively, level at 8-8.  And they then went on to take something of a stranglehold on the game as they built up a 16-8 lead over the mighty home-side, until a combination injured and fatigued bodies were unable to up muster sufficient resistance to cling onto that lead.

Salford fans’ disappointment can only be with the result, for in every other aspect of the game they can have nothing but pride in their side’s commitment, dedication, and performance throughout the encounter, for the teams were so evenly balanced that they went head-to-head with each other throughout, in a battle of great intensity and tremendous speed.  Fast, furious, and even, at times, frantic was how it had developed by half time.

It was the home side, as one might expect, who were first to settle, after gaining possession from the kick-off, but for all their retaining of it for the greater part of the opening ten minutes had only a fifth minute penalty goal to show for it.

Having therefore soaked up all the pressure thrown at them to that point, the Red Devils found the opportunity to turn defence into attack, in the 14th minute, when good progress down the left flank ended with their forcing a goal-line drop-out which gave them the opportunity to set up the opening try of the game for Ken Sio.

Great credit has justifiably been given to the individual prowess of French, on Wigan’s right flank, and indeed his two-try contribution proved to be a key factor in the result, but equally so were the skills shown by the two Salford players who proved so key in the visitors’ scores.  In this one it was fullback, Ryan Brierley, who put in a neat little kick into the corner for Sio,  while, unbelievably, in the act of being tackled and totally off-balance, before ending up lengthways along the ground.

The about-turn in fortunes certainly had a positive effect on the Salford players, who continued to muscle up against their hosts’ efforts to regain control, but it was not until nearly on the half hour that French’s slick dummy opened up the first crack in the Salford defence to put them back in front.

Five minutes later, the Reds came oh-so-close to eradicating this score, when Joe Burgess was put in the clear down the left wing, only to be thwarted by a tremendous cover tackle by Field, which possibly could be claimed to have saved the game for Wigan, for normally we would have backed Burgess to have got round to grounding under the posts.

One most surprising aspect of the game, far more prevalent than usual throughout the half, was the number of ball steals, normally limited to around one per game, but which on this occasion, mounted up to four in the one half alone, three of which were won by the Reds.  Joe Burgess and Tim Lafai did well to effect theirs but that of King Vuniyayawa, on Field, was so deft and swift that spectators were left wondering how on earth he had managed it, but with all three giving the team much extra possession.

Points-wise though it was a case of having to be satisfied with a successful Marc Sneyd penalty goal to tie the score 8-8, at half time, with even his last-minute drop-goal attempt drifting wide.  Usually, a draw at half-time feels satisfying to both sides, but, on balance of play, field position, and possession, the Salford fans could have been forgiven in feeling that their favourites really deserved to be in front.

This confidence throughout the team was still quite evident on the restart, as they continued to apply pressure, and it was Brodie Croft, this time, who supplied that mark of genius to deliver the most outstanding pass of the game for Sio’s second try.  Sneyd’s excellent goal-kicking, two of which were from the touchline, increased their lead to eight points, by 55 mins.

The aforementioned combination of mounting injuries, which consequently prevented further adequate interchanges,  and fatigue caused by increasingly limited possession, saw momentum swing to the opposition not from set-restarts, as so often happens, but from a mix of four penalties, two touched-in-flights, and started by a French’s interception of a Salford pass.

Suddenly, the Warriors had an abundance of possession and the remainder of the game was spent largely with them on the attack in the Salford half, and the Red Devils forced solely into one-up carries as they endeavoured to lay, in vain, the basis for on attack of their own.

The outcome of a second show-and-go by French, followed by the final decisive try from King, brought the points to the home-side, but they had had to battle the whole game before eventually gaining the upper hand.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WARRINGTON V SALFORD

For the second week in succession, Salford Red Devils had a half time lead expunged during the second period, to end up with a loss that had appeared most unlikely, as the teams trooped off for the half-time interval, in this Round 3 fixture at the home of the Warrington Wolves.

That the home side had opened 2023 with two most impressive victories, at home to Leeds and away at Huddersfield, must have hung over the visiting Salford fans, prior to kick-off, but such anxieties were quickly dissipated despite a Warrington try in the eighth minute, for there was a definite step up by the Reds, from the previous week’s performance against Hull KR.

The tactics based around their slick, wonderfully entertaining qualities might well have not changed but the execution of them was markedly better than the previous week, with every pass being so much more telling, and the gaps opening up more easily and effectively, as a result.

Their first, and equalising try, on eleven minutes, was a consequence of some precisionally timed, and accurately executed, passes, as the ball was moved along the line to Joe Burgess who unsurprisingly had had his opposite number sucked in-field, and so was completely in the clear to race down the wing before sending an equally effective and accurate pass inside to the supporting Ellis Longstaff, who must have revelled in crossing the line against his parent club, on their own pitch.

In addition, the Red Devils had learned from their previous experience the importance of muscling up in the physical aspects of the game.  Twice, in the opening twenty-five minutes, Tyler Dupree made clean breaks through the Wolves’ defence, brushing off attempted tackles and making great yardage up the field to build up good field position.  Not only he, but the remaining members of the pack were eager to make their presence felt, with Ollie Partington at the centre of so much of both attacking play and defensive efforts.

Last week, the problem was that they had failed to build a sufficiently comfortable lead, after their opening four pointer.  Not so, this time out, with first yet another interception by Ken Sio which saw him make progress before setting up Ryan Brierley, who showed terrific speed to get over for another. 

With Marc Sneyd’s being on target with both conversion attempts, his third effort was to tack on the extras to his own try, when he hoodwinked the Wires’ defence and coasted through.  He rounded off the first stanza with an additional two points from a penalty goal, which meant that by half time, there was a clear fourteen points difference between the sides, as opposed to the four, against Hull KR.

It is extremely doubtful that there was anyone who did not expect a response in some form or other from this Warrington side, so impressive in previous weeks, and our players will have certainly prepared themselves for such, but, when it came, it was in a form that was extremely difficult to do anything about, for quite simply they were most cleverly deprived of the ball, being in possession for less than ten minutes of the forty.  Without it, all anyone can do is tackle, tackle, and keep on tackling in the hope that it will come around to them, eventually.

All that tackling takes it toll, however, on energy levels, knocks and the like sustained in the collisions, and with a sense of frustration building up, which can then affect effectiveness on the few occasions possession does come their way.  One wayward pass to Joe Burgess, on the first tackle of a set, which went behind him and straight into touch, was merely symptomatic of this.

The Wolves took possession straight from Salford’s half-time kick-off, and proceeded to start as many as seven sets and retain possession for almost nine minutes.  The Reds’ one chance of stemming this tide came at the end of the first set, the high kick from which was left completely unclaimed by anyone on the field, and the ball, having been allowed to bounce, ricocheted up and backwards into the arms of Warrington, who were quickly afterwards awarded a penalty, which triggered a set restart.

From that point on, they found ploy after ploy to reclaim the ball for yet another set. The problem then became compounded by defenders conceding penalties, set restarts, and even a sin-binning, which on this occasion proved to be so crucial, in their increasingly tiring endeavours to styme the waves of attack thrown at them.  So good, though, was the Salford defence in the early stages of the half that there were times when the Wolves actually ended up further back than they had started the set.

Significant, however, was the Reds’ seeming difficulty to deal with the high, short-distance, hanging kicks, which their hosts seemed to be able to reclaim, with some regularity.  Williams’s kick into the corner for Thewlis’s try was probably their highlight of these, and if the final score-line seems a little unfair to the luckless Red Devils, it was, in part, because it was adversely affected by two, eight-point tries, the first of these being this one, with Dupree being adjudged to have fouled the scorer after the grounding.

So, after four months of the close season, during which coaches of other sides have had chance to weigh up how to deal with the flamboyant attacking style of the Salford Red Devils, we have twice now seen the use of tactical kicking as a partial means of starving them of sufficient possession to be the threat they can be.  It is now up to Salford to work on dealing with this in readiness for next week’s trip to Hull. FC

JOE BURGESS SIGNS NEW THREE-YEAR SALFORD RED DEVILS CONTRACT

Salford Red Devils are delighted to announce Joe Burgess has signed a new three-year contract, keeping him at the Club until 2025.

Our number five is the latest in a long line of players who have recently committed their long-term future to the Red Devils.

Since joining the Club from Wigan Warriors in late-2020, Burgess has gone from strength to strength. The 28-year-old has been a mainstay on the wing for Paul Rowley and formed a lethal left-edge partnership with Samoan World Cup finalist, Tim Lafai.

He scored 16 tries in 2022, with his consistency and athleticism vital in Salford’s run to the play-off semi-final. His hat-trick against Castleford Tigers back in May was a particular highlight, with each try showing just how much the Red Devils utilise his electric pace.

In reaction to extending his stay, Burgess – in typically humorous fashion – said: “I’m delighted to extend my stay at Salford Red Devils. It is very enjoyable working with this group of people – bosh!”

Head Coach, Paul Rowley has added: “It is fantastic news that Budgie is staying with our group.

“He is an experienced competitor who knows what winning looks and feels like. His fingerprints are on many of our special moments – and the group and I look forward to him being a part of many more.”

Also reacting to the news, Director of Rugby and Operations, Ian Blease said: “I am absolutely thrilled that Joe is the latest player to commit his long-term future to the Red Devils.

“He is an excellent and valued member of the dressing room, and his performances in a Salford shirt over his time here has been fantastic to see.

“His raw pace and athleticism would be a potent weapon for any team, so I am delighted that we’ve managed to ensure that will be with us for 2023 and beyond!”

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: ST HELENS V SALFORD (PLAY OFF SEMI-FINAL)

Salford Red Devils’ hopes and aspirations for a place in this year’s Grand Final, together with their 2022 season, came to an end on Saturday last, with their 19-12 semi-final defeat at the hands of the League Leaders Shield holders, St Helens, at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Disappointing as the result has been, for everyone connected with the club, it has to be viewed in the context of the whole season.  There can have been very few, who, at the start of the year would have given Salford much chance of reaching the play-offs, let alone the semi-final, after vanquishing the much-vaunted Huddersfield side on their own meadow, and keeping them pointless in the process.

Following that, St Helens, with a place in the Bet Fred Super League Grand Final at stake, had clearly done their homework on the Red Devils and there can be no mistaking that they had identified their own strengths and played to them, with considerable gusto.

These lay, most significantly, around their superior physicality and intensity.  Not by chance are they the team to have conceded the least number of points in the season, for their tackling, particularly in the opening period, was ruthless, and at times, verging on the brutal, while the pressure they put on the Salford players with their line-speed restricted Salford to a mere few metres on the occasions they had the ball.

By comparison, the Red Devils took some while to utilise their own strengths in order to gain much in the way of ascendency.  Their initial problem had its roots from the previous week, with the loss of Brodie Croft, but no-one could possibly have imagined that this would be compounded, two minutes into this game, by the complete withdrawal of Andy Ackers, with yet another head injury.

Not that anyone should detract from the contributions of their two replacements.  Amir Bourouh put in an incredibly sterling performance in defence with an extremely high number of tackles, while Chris Atkin was the subject of some extremely hard hits, including a chicken-wing tackle which saw the sin-binning of Knowles shortly after an accidental head-high knock from Welsby, yet he continued to perform to his best, being involved in setting up Kallum Watkins for his try, two minutes later.

Salford’s surge up the league table, in the last three months has been built around the ability of their strike players, out-wide, to tear through opposition defences as a result of the team’s setting them up with exciting flamboyant rugby, which has been so marvellous to watch.  Croft and Ackers have been so pivotal to this: Ackers with his speedy ball distribution from dummy-half and his darting scoots through retreating lines, while Croft has been central to the decimation of so many opposing teams with his clever footwork, allied to his shrewd timing and accurate passing.

Losing both of these for such a finely balanced encounter was much greater than simply losing two-fifths of the spine of the team, which was bad enough in itself.  Other players found themselves having to execute their own plays with much less time than they normally have had.  Marc Sneyd, for example, was pressured on almost every kick, as evidenced by his forty-twenty attempt just failing to make the line, and Saints regaining possession for the restart.

Nevertheless, the Red Devils can take great satisfaction with the way they coped with all of this.  Initially, it was their valiant defence in the face of that early pressure, which impressed, with their limiting the Saints to two scores only and then keeping them try-less for the following fifty-three minutes.  By comparison, Salford’s first try came from Watkins on their first attack, in the thirtieth minute.

As has come to be expected of them, the Reds’ handling was the more adventurous and entertaining, as indeed were their tries.  St Helens were reliant upon short kicks into the in-goal area for two of theirs, whereas both of Salford’s came from clever, slick handling, with Ryan Brierley’s 60th minute score being easily the best of the afternoon, starting with swift hands to the left putting Joe Burgess in the clear down the left wing.

At 13-12, then, it really had become either side’s game, but sadly fortune favoured the Saints, with both Elijah Taylor and Tim Lafai being denied opportunities to score, the first for an obstruction in the build up, and Lafai’s being obstructed by Makinson, who was sin-binned for doing so.

It would be too easy for short-term disappointment to over-shadow the team’s achievement in being out on the field, that afternoon.  Far more important is for them to use the experience upon which to build next year.  Their 2017 Challenge Cup Semi-Final defeat by Wigan became a platform from which they became Grand Finalists, eighteen months later.  Next season could well be the time they go one-better-still.  2023 season tickets are available already, so take advantage of our Early Bird offer, which runs until 15th December.

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 ST HELENS

There are times in life, when you have to rub your eyes and pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming.  Last Sunday, at the A J Bell, must have been one of those occasions for many Salford fans, for no matter how optimistic anyone could have been, prior to kick off, the eventual result of the game must have been well beyond the wildest of their dreams .

Nothing in this world is perfect, and there is always room for improvement in any sphere or walk of life, but occasionally something comes along on which making any improvement at all would be extremely difficult, and it becomes more important just to enjoy it solely for it was, or still is.

So, far from singling out certain aspects of the game, let us take a backward glance at the events of Sunday afternoon, and remind ourselves of a few things.

Let us start by remembering that our opposition on the day actually was St Helens, currently, reigning Super League Champions, feared, and respected, throughout the league, with a defence so unrelenting that it has the lowest points against total in Super League.

They are a team of many talents, with internationals scattered throughout the various positions within the side, who can win games solely with their own individual talents. So, it certainly was not just a run of the mill side which they put to the torch.  The boost to the players confidence, particularly in one another will have been massive, and they did it in such style.

Their handling was out of the top drawer, and by deploying that, they saved themselves a considerable amount of work and effort.  In years gone by, coaches used to expound the old maxim ‘Let the ball do the work’ and, not for the first time this season, the Red Devils showed that that philosophy is as true today as it ever has been.  An additional by-product is that by not going into contact as much there is rather less chance of picking up an injury – something which Salford can little afford, at the moment.

Then, there was the running, and the angles at which they approached the defensive line.  Man of the Match, Tim Lafai, was outstanding at this and consequently prised open many openings for himself and his teammates, not least, his winger Joe Burgess, who positively revelled in all the space he was given.  Likewise, Brodie Croft, for his crown-topping try of the match, successfully avoided being tackled by at least two defenders, by a combination of pace and direction.

One thing is for sure, and that is that this was not a one-off fluke, because it would seem as though we are actually getting quite used to all this.  After all, it was only a few weeks ago that the team scored a club record number of seventy-four points in a match.  Wakefield would undoubtedly swear to its being no one-off fluke.

There have been comparisons between this side and that of the nineteen-seventies, and understandably so.  In the Rugby League Quality Street series, a number of the players interviewed have identified that team’s hallmarks of: high-quality entertaining rugby, closely knit team relationships, a leader in Brian Snape who was totally committed to the cause of sheer entertainment, highly talented individuals, many of whom became household names, and the knack of being able to score tries from virtually anywhere on the field.

If any of this sounds familiar, then there must be some truth in the argument.  Certainly, in Paul Rowley, there is the leadership which appears to be expounding the importance of classy, high speed, entertaining rugby, unlike so many other clubs where safety first is the order of the day. Similarly, in the likes of Brodie Croft, Kallum Watkins, Ken Sio, Marc Sneyd, to mention only a few, we have the talented individuals, who are needed to win matches.

A good day for all, at the office, therefore, last weekend.  Things went right, the passes stuck, and Saints were made to look very ordinary indeed – “Near perfection” was the judgement given on this week’s Super League Show, by host Tanya Arnold .  How absolutely beautiful it all looks when it comes off, but it can seem very different on the occasions when the timings are off.

High speed, entertaining rugby is a risky business – too risky it would seem for many coaches and clubs – but what a joy it is to have the pleasure of watching quality such as Sunday’s, even on an ad hoc basis, only.  Watching it on a fairly regular basis would be wonderful, but that degree of consistency of performance has to be worked towards, and hiccups along the way have to be expected and endured.  Leeds is next week; for now let us just revel in the performance we put up against St Helens.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: TOULOUSE V SALFORD

For the second week in a row, Salford Red Devils succeeded in defeating French opposition, in temperatures in the thirties – conditions which should have more than favoured both sets of opponents.  Surprising as last week’s victory over the Catalans Dragons was to many people, this latest win was, if anything, even more commendable, coming, as it did, on French soil, in front of a most partisan crowd, against a side, which, at home, in recent weeks, had put all manner of opposition to the sword, thereby gaining a momentum which had seen them lift themselves off the bottom of the table to go above Wakefield.

Despite their Super League Championship aspirations, the Dragons, in comparison, had been visitors to the A J Bell, having, by choice, flown in and out on the day, having succumbed to struggling Warrington, the previous week, at the Magic Weekend.  After this latest victory, it is now the Red Devils who have the momentum of recent victories, and, dare we say it, aspirations of making the top six at the end of the season.  Let’s be fair, even St Helens failed to win in Toulouse, while Leeds, in Round 19, had gone down by twenty points to six.

Not so the Red Devils, though you would hardly have expected so, when they fell behind by six points, with only ninety seconds on the clock.  It certainly was not the most auspicious of openings for them, with their conceding a penalty at the end of the very first set, thus giving Toulouse a second look at the Reds’ line, before opening up the defence on the final tackle.

Concerning as many of us might have found this, it has to be said that, for the remaining seventy-eight and a half minutes, the visitors successfully kept their line intact, no mean achievement, especially when one takes into account the venue and the conditions, while Toulouse’s other five points all came from kicks at goal.

It took the Red Devils until the 24th minute, to cross the home line, when Jack Ormoroyd charged over, but with at least one body beneath him, preventing his grounding of the ball.  That attempt, however, was encouragement that they were getting close to scoring, and some four minutes later, a loose pass by Toulouse, in their own half, was acquired by Kallum Watkins.  Anexcellent end-of-set kick from Mark Sneyd was taken by Joe Burgess on the try line, and all he had to was place the ball down cleanly, which he did.

For the most part, however, the first half had settled into a war of attrition, with first one side and then the other using possession to test out their opposition when in possession, particularly close to their opponents’ line.  Somewhat surprisingly, it was a drop goal, by Toulouse, five minutes from half time, which broke the deadlock, and led to a further couple of points shortly afterwards.

A clean break by Gigot, one of very few in the half, was, most thankfully, brought to an end by Burgess’s ankle tap.  Watkins’s drop onto the Frenchman, to ensure the tackle, was penalised by the referee, for unintentional contact with the head, and former Salford U19s, Chris Hankinson, doubled his score with the boot, bringing up a 9-6 half-time, home lead.

Tight as the first forty had been, the second half was quite the opposite, with the third quarter belonging solely to Salford.  Indeed, the very first set ended with Sneyd’s magnificent, 40-20, and then his kick at the end of the subsequent set, being fumbled and presenting the Red Devils with a third.

When, on 49 mins, the French side lost the ball, on the second tackle of a set, as a result of the constant pressure they were under, Salford were quickly awarded a penalty.  The lovely flowing action of their passing had been in evidence, on and off throughout the game, and was produced to fine effect for Ken Sio, to receive the ball in sufficient space to go over in the corner to put the visitors in front for the first time.

True, Toulouse reclaimed the lead, temporarily, on 53mins, courtesy Hankinson’s penalty goal. but that second Salford try had merely heralded in one of their purple patches for the next fifteen minutes.  They restored their dominance on the scoreboard two minutes later, when an overlap was worked on the left, directly from a scrum, giving Burgess a clear run to the line for a converted try.

A truly tremendous break by Brodie Croft, on 59 mins, thoroughly deserved a try, but, unfortunately, his support overran him and he was tackled in possession, with the Red Devils then having to be content with Sneyd’s taking a leaf out of the opposition’s book, and slotting over a penalty goal to make up for the one –  the only one – he had missed, all afternoon.

Sio wound up the evening’s scoring, with another converted try in the corner, after a strong hit-up by Helliwell on the previous tackle, after which the ball was moved further to the right, where the winger used clever footwork to beat his opponents to get over the line.

The final fifteen minutes of the game saw the home side regroup and throw everything into their attack, but their only success was in forcing three goal-line drop-outs from kicks into the in-goal area.

Almost unbelievably, just as Burgess had saved the day with an ankle tap on Gigot in the dying seconds of the first half, so he repeated the exercise, this time without the need for additional help, on Ashall-Bott from a break following his twenty-metre restart, some seven minutes from the final whistle.  That proved to be their last fling of the dice, and the Red Devils were able to pocket the points and return home to prepare for next week’s visit from St Helens.

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