In what was only the club’s fifth victory over Leeds at Headingley in seventy-eight years, the Salford Red Devils last Friday night, put that spectre to bed with an outstanding, winning performance, to take the spoils in an increasingly tightly fought battle to cement places in the Super League top six.
There had been an air of confidence and enthusiasm for the encounter, throughout the camp during the week, and on the night the players executed a game plan which drew on every strength within the side, leaving nothing to chance, and exposing any deficiency within their hosts’ ranks.
Whilst their attacking flair, as we knew it from last season, still lies awaiting the dry grounds, they have replaced it with an efficiency in defence of which Salford fans have not had experience for many a long year, and thereby rests a significant factor in the reasons for the paucity in post-war wins over there.
Looking back over the game without the anxieties which must have occasionally surfaced in some, whilst watching on the night, we can all appreciate just how good a game it was throughout, with both sides having their periods of ascendency.
Salford’s were probably the more prolonged, and certainly the more effective, because it was in these spells of dominance, with more than adequate possession in the Rhinos’ red zone, that their match winning twenty-two points were scored. The effect on the home side of all this pressure was to force errors, particularly errors of discipline, leading to penalties and, consequently, even more pressure.
The first of these came in the twelfth minute, when after an opening ten-minute arm wrestle, in which flaws in the home side’s handling started to become evident, Salford won, forcing a goal-line drop-out and a subsequent repeat set.
It was, however, the sin-binning in the 18th minute, of Leeds’s stand-off, Austin, for an obstruction on Kallum Watkins, which brought things to a head, with the Red Devils then tearing their opponents defence to shreds to notch two converted tries, through first, Rhys Williams, after they had got their attacking line in full flow, and then, five minutes later, the ball being moved to the left and Sam Stone showing great skill to avoid attempted tackles before going over to the left of the posts.
Their second period of dominance came in the third quarter, when they increased a six-point, half-time lead to what was to be a match-determining sixteen, courtesy of a converted try and two penalty goals.
The Rhinos, nevertheless, had their moments, though for somewhat shorter spells. Their first came in the final ten minutes of the first half when they changed tactics by reverting to some daring, and some risky, offloads, which on the night stuck, none more than in the run up to their 38th minute try, under the posts.
Similarly, the Yorkshiremen gained the ascendency for the concluding fifteen minutes, when they were rejuvenated by a further six-pointer in the corner by getting on the end of a cross-field kick to set up, though as it turned out to be, an unnecessary nail-biting conclusion to the encounter – unnecessary, of course, because the Salford defence was equal to anything the Rhinos could thereafter muster to throw at it.
And that defence is now becoming a weapon in their armoury that no-one, outside the group, had probably expected. It has, though, been increasingly evident over a number of matches, culminating in that home victory over Catalans, which will have stood them in great stead in readiness for this encounter, for yet again the pack had to contend with, and actually subdue, a much larger and powerful opposing set.
Led by their opening middles, King Vuniyayawa, who must have relished every moment of facing up to his former club, Ollie Partington, who so noticeably showed the knack of putting himself in the right position to dictate plays, and Tyler Dupree, fresh from international duty. They were ably replicated by the trustworthy Jack Ormondroyd, and Shane Wright, whose form this season has been absolute revelation.
Kallun Watkins made a captain’s contribution showing such strength and determination in his running, but mention also has to be made of the contribution of Ellis Longstaff, who had to be drafted into the unfamiliar role of centre, and acquitted himself well throughout, even going over the third of the visitors’ three tries.
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the significant role of Marc Sneyd, whose kicking, especially goal-kicking, week after week, can so significantly make the difference between winning and losing. It seems now to be even falling into the dim and distant past, at Leigh actually, since he last missed a goalkick, and his two penalty successes against the Rhinos, were, points-wise, the equivalent of an additional try.
So, it is onwards, next week, to the Totally Wicked Stadium, where against the World Club Champions it will require everything on view from the Reds at Leeds, and who knows what more besides, to overcome the Saints. After this latest victory, their fourth in a row, however, they certainly will not be short on confidence.