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: WARRINGTON V SALFORD (2)

An absolutely magnificent fightback, in the final quarter of the game was the hallmark of an exceptionally entertaining, afternoon’s rugby league, when the Red Devils visited the Halliwell-Jones Stadium, to take on the Warrington Wolves.

There will be many, who will have left the game feeling quite disconsolate and disappointed, but they will not be Salford fans, and nor can anyone have anything to complain about, in respect of the entertainment on view.

No, the Salford fans left rejoicing at their side’s incredible reversal of a 24-8 score line, which the Wolves had built up ten minutes into the second half.  That this was, in itself, a reversal of the 0-8 lead into which the Red Devils had scorched during the opening fifteen minutes, simply underlines just how unpredictable, and riveting, this encounter turned out to be.

From the very outset, it was the visitors who turned on the style.  A Marc Sneyd kick, at the end of a seven-tackle set, was collected by left winger Rhys Williams, amid a most static Wolves’ defence, which he exploited to the full by racing into space and crossing for the opening try, on six minutes.

Seven minutes later, a well-directed pass from Ryan Brierley, from dummy-half, saw Deon Cross dart through the defensive line for Salford’s second score.  Although Sneyd was unable to convert either of them, these two tries were to constitute the winning eight-point margin, at the final whistle.

Efforts to improve upon that, however, proved surprisingly fruitless, mainly because the home defence regrouped and determined to snuff out the Salford attack at its source, namely, half back, Brodie Croft, who had been running rampant for the duration, to this point.  Consequently, three or four attacks went unrewarded, and the result was a building frustration within the team, which led, in turn, to a complete shift in momentum.

It was not the sinbinning of Kallum Watkins on thirty-seven minutes, which was responsible for the Warrington comeback; that merely served to illustrate the effect of being a man short, on such a firm, dry pitch, in such a fast, free-flowing game.

It was, in fact, the conceding of a succession of no less than seven penalties, within only a couple of minutes, which invited Warrington to attack, that was the real cause of the problem, most of which were for off-side.  Such an amount of possession, in such good position, is never going to go without presenting subsequent problems, and indeed, on twenty-two minutes, Salford fans were most relieved that a possible Wolves’ try, by the side of the posts, was disallowed.

Indeed, they will have been equally thankful, on the stroke of half-time, when Sitoleki Akauola superbly denied Thewlis another try, by pushing him into touch.  There had been no denying Warrington, on 27 mins, however, when a scoot from Daryl Clark, caught out the Salford line of defence, and he scored close to the posts for the conversion to bring them within two points, 6-8, at half time.

The fact that, at the start of the second-half, Watkins still had by far the majority of his time in the sinbin to sit out, was exploited by the home side to the full, and the Red Devils had a rather challenging spell, until his return, on 48 minutes, by which time Warrington had taken the lead with two converted tries, on 41 and 45 mins, and to which they promptly added a third, on 51.

When, at that point, former Salford favourite, Stefan Ratchford, slotted over his final conversion, the game was hanging in the balance.  Any further score would, undoubtedly, have been extremely difficult for the visitors to overturn, but the sixteen-point lead was by no means a winning margin.

The incredible stamina and resolve which the Salford players showed over the remainder of the game was nothing but outstanding. So many teams in this situation would have gone into their shell, longing for the final whistle.

With a full complement restored, they simply rolled up their sleeves and set to, to get the result.  The swing in momentum started on 55 mins, with some great handling, particularly from Watkins, whose wonderful pass out of a tackle, seemingly to nobody, ended up in the hands of Chris Atkin for him to score and so start the fightback.

Prop forwards are not renowned for their try-scoring feats, and back-to-back tries from props are a considerable rarity.  Jack Ormandroyd, whose stature has recently been growing by the week, and whom we singled out, last week, for his off-the ball work, put the cap on an outstanding performance, yesterday, to cross, most remarkably, on both 70 and 73 mins, for Sneyd-converted tries, the second following a barnstorming run by fellow prop, Tyler Dupree, to put Salford back in front by two points.

It was only fitting that the dominance of the Salford victory should be underlined by a further six pointer, started by the impressive Atkin and finished by fullback, Ryan Brierley, which gave them the cushioning to be able to soak up Warrington’s final attacking flurries, in the last three minutes with relative ease.

Winning at a top club, like Warrington, is most commendable.  To end up having to win the game twice, as they did, is a truly magnificent achievement, and the players deserve all the plaudits that the fans, and their coaches, bestowed on them.  With Magic Weekend supported by Sky Zero, now only seven days away, what better place to show the whole nation, and rugby league in particular, just what this attacking force of Salford Red Devils has become.

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