Having gained the coveted promotion they so much desired to Super League 2, the Red Devils will get their much deserved opportunity to open their season at this new elevated level, with a trip across the Pennines to Castleford, this coming Sunday.
Not that this will be the first time that they will be facing Super League opponents, having already had a taster of this in two pre-season friendlies, against Wigan Warriors and Leigh Leopards. The more relevant of these, probably, was the more recent, against the Leopards, since Wigan, as might be expected, occupy a place in Super League 1, while Leigh will be one of the teams our players will be facing during the course of the season.
For a variety of reasons, one should never read too much into the outcomes of friendly games, as the context to these are, by definition, completely different to league encounters, with coaches keen to suss out new combinations and introduce new additions to the squad, while the players have the opportunity to try executing new moves.
It was, however, a totally different context altogether for the Red Devils when they took on the Leopards, with the playing squad considerably reduced to the basic seventeen, by a combination of work, personal, and family commitments to several players alongside a number of injuries, unlike their opponents who had reserves in abundance.
This, therefore, gave head coach, Chris Bates, the opportunity to blood many of his new signings, alongside the remainder of his squad from 2022. Ideally, this would have taken place with just one or two at a time, taking the field just to get the feel of things, with the experienced players providing the stiffening needed to overcome the opposition.
On this occasion, the majority of them were playing alongside one another, throughout, which set them a much greater challenge than would normally be the case. The situation was further compounded by the fact that each of the newcomers was also new to rugby league, with their playing either their first or second, only, game of rugby league.
They did, nevertheless, individually, acquit themselves very well, and every one of them showed considerable promise with talent and skills that will undoubtedly become invaluable to the squad, as they integrate themselves into the side over the coming weeks.
Sam Evans, coming in at such a pivotal position as half back on her rugby league debut, grew confidently throughout the game into the role. Sage Bannister, at fullback, had already shown her considerable defensive abilities in the match with Wigan, and she, once again, showed these, when, on 25 mins, she combined with loose forward, Brogan Evans, to pull off yet another try saving tackle when the visitors were only six points ahead.
For sheer commitment to the Salford cause, however, prop, Summer Harris deserves accolades for having been prepared to occupy a berth on the wing, of all places, while substitute Emerald Hickey was called into action as early as the second minute, as a result of the temporary loss of Sarina Tamou injured in one of the first tackles of the game.
An unsurprising 4-26 reversal was therefore the final result, with Salford’s try coming from left winger, Lauren Ellison, after 52 minutes to narrow Leigh’s 0-10, half time, lead. Indeed, having had time to take stock of the situation during the interval, the first fifteen-minute spell of the second half proved to be the Red Devils’ strongest period during which they dominated possession and were able to keep play in the visitors’ thirty metre area and launch several attacks on their line, leading up to their try.
Sheer fatigue, owing to the shortage of bodies on the bench to enable further interchanges, however, eventually caught up with the Salford players, and the comparatively fresh-legged Leopards were able to take control in the later stages to run in three further tries.
Sage Bannister, Lauren Ellison, Alex Simpson, Victoria Kini, Summer Harris, Louise Fellingham, Sam Evans, Megan Condliffe, Tamzin Corcoran, Sarina Tamou, Helena Walker, Abi Collins, Brogan Evans
Darcey Price, Laura Bent, Hannah Wicks, Emerald Hickey, Katie Garry