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.