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.

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:  HULL KR V SALFORD

Not for the first time, a team in a rich vein of form paid the price for a fixture-free weekend, with a loss of momentum and subsequently, a loss of quality in their performance.  That certainly appeared to be the case with Salford, in their outing to East Hull to take on the Robins, following two fine home victories over Leeds and Castleford.

The lapse of seventeen days between the last of those, and yesterday, was enough to take a little of the shine off their performances, as was exemplified by their failure to capitalise on the most clear-cut of try-scoring opportunities, six minutes into the game.

Fine handling from Amir Bourouh, Tim Lafae, Alex Gerrard, and Brodie Croft, virtually on their own try-line, successfully sent Deon Croft, supported by Ken Sio on his inside, sprinting down the right wing.  With only the covering Ethan Ryan to beat, a simple two on one was all that was required, but the pair, who normally have such a great understanding with each other on attack, had too much time to think about it and consequently over-complicated it with two, almost unnecessary, passes.

In fairness, Ryan did extremely well in the situation by not committing himself, totally to any tackle, and the chance petered out as the attacking pair ran out of room along the touch line.  The contrasting effects on the two sides, however, was the most significant outcome, with the home-side growing in confidence, and, soon after, taking a ten-point lead, with back-to-back tries.

Their tally continued to grow throughout the half to nineteen, through two goals, a try, and a drop-goal, but the Red Devils did manage to pull back six points with a converted try of their own, on 27 mins.  Hull had great difficulty in dealing with Harvey Livett’s kick into the in-goal area, with two players fumbling it for Tim Lafae to pounce upon.  Marc Sneyd added the goal-kick.

Singular as that score was, it was sufficient to put the visitors back in contention, and with only thirteen points separating the two sides at half time, confidence still remained that Salford could come back in the second half, just as they had done against much greater odds, at Wakefield.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  A no-look flip-pass, close to the Robins’ try line, which might have initiated a try for Salford, was intercepted, and quickly led to their hosts extending their lead by a further six points, and, from that point, events turned significantly in their favour.

Most crucial of all were the two, virtually back-to-back, sin-binnings of Tyler Dupree and Livett, which meant that the rest of the team were left facing the buoyant KR with only twelve men for twenty minutes, during which time the home side exploited their numerical advantage, and continued to build up a quite commanding lead.

The Red Devils did however round off the match with a further couple of tries, sandwiching a final six-pointer for Hull, which gave the Salford fans something to cheer about, before their long journey home, Deon Cross latching onto the end of another kick into the in-goal area, and then Joe Burgess benefitting from Lafae’s interception to put him away,

Six weeks ago, the Red Devils most impressively improved their performances in the league game at Wigan.  This Friday will be the ideal opportunity for them to repeat that feat when the Cup holders visit the A J Bell for the return encounter.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V CASTLEFORD

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V CASTLEFORD

Three months on, from the opening game of the season, in which Salford surprised many by coming away with a convincing 16-26 win, at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle, the Castleford Tigers arrived at the A J Bell, seeking to reverse the outcome of that initial encounter.  The strides which the Tigers had made in the intervening period, had moved them into the top six of Super League.

Salford, in comparison, had left it somewhat later, until the last three fixtures, in fact, before making inroads into their rather unflattering league status at that time, but those three markedly improved performances had been more eye-catching, coming against the three biggest names in rugby league, Wigan, St Helens, and Leeds, the last of which brought them their first win in their last seven matches.

The 30-16 result of last Friday’s return fixture with Cas was of very little difference from that of Round 1, showing that the Red Devils appear to have maintained their lead in the standard of their performances from the first to this latest encounter.

Not that that was evident, on field, during the opening period of either half, with the visitors being the first to settle and open their account, in both.  The first half saw them going four points ahead, after a mere three minutes, while post interval, it took them only five minutes longer than that to register a try.

As any good coach will espouse, however, it does not matter how you start, it is how you finish that matters most, and that certainly proved to be the case, on Friday, as the Reds gradually took control of the game in the first forty, while then turning the second half into a quite enthralling, and most entertaining, contest

The visitors’ opening four pointer was eventually answered by the Red Devils in the seventeenth minute.  Taking advantage of a penalty which put them on the attack, Marc Sneyd  kicked into the in-goal area on the fourth tackle, and  Tim Lafae was the first to get there to ground the ball, which with Sneyd’s conversion put Salford into a lead they never surrendered, thereafter.

The rain, which had fallen steadily for four hours prior to kick-off, had made both the ball and the playing surface most slippery, so conditions were challenging for both sides, both of which were pleased to turn their opponents’ errors to their own advantage.

Playing the game in your opponents’ half was highly desirable and advantageous, something at which Salford proved to be rather the better, during the run up to the interval.  The pressure this put the Tigers under began to take its toll on them, and they began to look quite tired, in that last ten minutes.

Although rugby is predominantly a team game, there are occasions when the individual contribution of one player can have a quite profound effect on the game, and their team.  Joe Burgess was the individual, on this occasion who, as the first half moved closer to its end, completely stamped his authority on the match.

Not only did he latch onto the end of a right to left passing move, on thirty minutes, then wrong footing the defenders for Salford’s second try, six minutes later amid a posse of attacking Tigers, he climbed high to take the ball above his head from and end-of-set kick, and then, outnumbered by four to one he resisted their combined efforts to force  him into touch, thereby both acquiring, and retaining possession for his side.

As if to celebrate all of this, he closed the half with the second try of his eventual hat-trick, by exploiting space on his flank to round the opposition with his pace coupled with a swerve, which kept him completely in the clear, on his way to the line.

It took a full fifteen minutes of an arm-wrestle, at the onset of the second half, during which Castleford appeared to be gaining the ascendency and had narrowed the Reds’ lead to six points, before Sneyd turned the game in Salford’s favour.  Against Leeds it had been a drop-goal which had been so decisive; this time it was a 20-40, the repeat set from which he was to slot over a penalty goal, to restore a two-scores advantage.

That two-scores very quickly became three, after a tremendous break by Andy Ackers was continued by Morgan Escare, and although he was tackled in flight, his quick play-the-ball led to excellent passing along the line via Ackers again, Brodie Croft, and Kallum Watkins, to Deon Croft, who grounded for another Sneyd-converted try.

If the balance of the game had changed with surprising speed, it was about to change again, even more quickly, as the visitors caught their hosts out with a most unusual restart.  The kick went with some force along the ground before bouncing up over the Salford players’ heads , into touch.  Just as the Red Devils had used their unexpected possession from the 20-40 to good effect, so too, now did Castleford, by putting Quareqare in at the corner for his second try of the half.

Salford’s ten-point lead was still sufficient cushioning, however, to keep them comfortable enough to continue playing their fine expansive rugby, and they extended it further with Burgess completing his hat-trick from Lafae’s wonderful final pass.

It is really looking now as though Salford have turned the corner, and rediscovered their early season form, which had, it appeared, deserted them over the intervening month and a half.  Now a free weekend gives them some well-earned respite before an important away trip to take on Hull KR.

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