Even with a fully fit squad from which to select, it would have been regarded as a considerable achievement for the Salford Red Devils to have gone to the Leigh Sports Village for the second time in only two months, and come back with a victory, for, in the meantime, their hosts have been busily building up quite a reputation for themselves throughout Super League, with impressive victories over a number of sides including current Super League, and World Club, Champions, St Helens.
That, however, was far from the case, since the Red Devils’ squad had been so decimated over the interim period that, to an extent, the team had virtually picked itself, primarily on grounds of availability, thus making this Rivals Round success all the more impressive, and the sweeter.
Even the manner in which the game unfolded presented a number of significant adversities for them, not least the sin-binning of fullback, Ryan Brierley, on 48 mins, and it could not have come at a worse time with the Leopards having returned to the fray, following the half time interval, refreshed and ready to take the game to the Reds, at full steam.
So, as Brierly reluctantly trekked his way across the width of the field, there must have been many hearts in mouths, among the Salford Faithful, many of whom must have been expecting the very worst. Damage limitation was about as much as one could expect, with the home side’s job having been made all the simpler, with the Reds, as a result, having to hold out for as long as possible against the numerical superiority facing them.
Yet, when the Salford fullback eventually returned to contest it was to an actually increased lead of two extra points, at 10-22, having eradicated Briscoe’s 53rd minute try, and expanded upon it with a Tyler Dupree special under the posts on 58 mins, from Marc Sneyd’s shrewd short pass, which he then converted.
Indeed, apart from hitting the post with his first, touchline attempt, Sneyd’s goalkicking was to prove crucial in the final result, and had they chosen to do so, they could have made their winning margin somewhat greater, with them deciding to run the ball on two late penalties close to the posts, rather than electing to take the kicks.
As might have been expected the Leigh side to took the field, most determined in manner, and although the Red Devils matched them in the opening arm wrestle, a misunderstanding between Danny Addy and King Vuniyayawa presented Leigh with their first attacking opportunity, which they clinically took by opening up an overlap on the left flank for Charnley to cross in the corner for a try, which was eventually increased to six points, five minutes later, with a penalty goal.
As was later to happen on a number of occasions, however, the game began to swing to the opposition, this time towards the Reds with their gaining three back-to-back sets from a combination of a Leigh handling error, penalty, and set restart giving them great field position and ample possession to attack the home line, culminating with a try from Ken Sio, from a typical Brierley kick into the corner.
That proved to herald one of those attacking purple patches which Salford fans had come to enjoy so frequently at the climax to last season, with the Red Devils enjoying plenty more possession to tease Leigh’s line-defence, before some fabulous footwork from second rower, Sam Stone, put him through to score his first points for Salford, against his former club.
So often, in those halcyon days of summer 2022, it was the back-to-back tries, which sorely hurt opponents back then, and that is just what they served up on this occasion, with what certainly many Salford fans will have thought to be the try of the match.
It started with man-of-the-match, Chris Atkin, not for the first time this season filling in at three separate positions over his time on field, dummying his way through a gap before handing on to the supporting Shane Wright, who went thirty metres up the field to set up Brodie Croft to sprint the remaining twenty to the posts, with his outpacing all despairing attempts to overhaul him.
Leigh’s second half recovery did narrow their deficit first to 10-16, and later 14-22, and kept them in the game, but the ascendency was, in the main, with the Red Devils, who, with a two-score winning margin could afford to keep their calm, run the clock down and keep the pressure on the Leopards.
Leigh’s final, last minute try, came far too late for it to make any difference to the outcome, with a mere eleven seconds left, at the final restart. They had, nevertheless, contributed to an enthralling contest, which had ebbed and flowed from one to the other, and there is clearly little between the two sides, as the results of both encounters show. This is all to the good for both clubs and their fans, engendering a greater interest, and degree of competitiveness, in the locality, which will be continued once more, as the intensity of the competition for top six places hots up, just in time for their visit to the Salford Stadium, in mid-July.