It requires considerable self-belief, talent, skill, and above all character, for any team to turn a number of early setbacks into an impressive win, but in their most recent home fixture, against Hull FC, the Salford Red Devils U19 College Academy showed they had all these qualities, in abundance, for after a somewhat dispiriting of starts, they regrouped to fight back, and then overcome further difficulties, to run out winners.
This victory, their second of the season, had all those present totally engrossed, and, as time went by, more and more het up with tense, nervous energy as the initiative swung first one way and then the other. This was hardly unsurprising, as the visitors had fielded a strong side, which was all to the good because they provided a significant test of the home side’s capabilities.
That, however, was far from anyone’s mind as the visitors swept to a twelve-point lead, in the first ten minutes, as they twice attacked down their left wing. The first came as a result of the Red Devils conceding a set restart followed immediately by a penalty, the extra possession from which, Hull exploited by freeing up their wingman to race clear and then feed his inside support for a score under the posts.
Galvanising in the face of this disappointment, Salford worked hard to gain a foothold in the game gaining possession on attack ten metres of the visitors’ line, only for that same left winger to show a clean pair of heels over ninety metres to notch their second, having intercepted Jack Stevens’s wide pass to Myles Paul, who was in space on the Salford right edge, where he would without doubt have scored, had the ball got to him.
It was most evident, at this point that Hull had to be deprived of any further score, or the task of getting on equal terms would have presented far more of a problem. That score looked the most likely outcome, on seventeen minutes, however, as another Hull break, this time down the middle with a line of players in support, bore down on fullback, Nathan Connell.
Outnumbered he certainly was, but he simply concentrated on the player in possession and turned it into a one-on-one situation, and, against a much bigger and stronger opponent, got his tackling technique spot on to snuff out the threat completely – a feat he was to repeat a further couple of times in the second half.
That valiant effort not only succeeded in keeping the game within Salford’s sights, it also provided inspiration to the rest of the team to such good effect that, six minutes later, Jacks, Kenway and Stevens combined, with Stevens putting his second rower through, and then supporting him for the return pass, to score under the posts and add the extras.
Hull, though, were never going to draw back, and were always going to exploit the slightest indiscretion with points. Thus, it was, that when the home team failed to field a goal-line drop-out, and then conceded a penalty, the Yorkshiremen exploited space on their right flank, for this winger to score in the corner, to extend their advantage to ten points, on the half hour.
The last ten-minute spell, however, was to produce a complete turn around in fortunes, as the Red Devils replicated their opponents’ two try opening, with two back-to-back scores of their own. Quick, slick, passing along the Hull line, from left to right opened up space for right centre, Louis Lord, to surge through for the first, with Stevens’s conversion bringing the score to 10-16.
Directly from the kick-off, the Salford forwards made great yardage upfield, and towards the end of the set, Stevens put in the shrewdest of kicks behind the Hull right winger, with the ball then standing up beautifully for left winger, Elliott Kelly, to level the scores for the half time interval.
With honours now even, the Reds had everything to play for in the second half, but the initial grind of the arm-wrestle which ensued, gave no hint of the way the rest of the encounter would swing, like a pendulum, from one side to the other.
It was almost fifteen minutes into the half before defences broke, and when the first score came, it went to Hull, after a number of errors allowed the visitors to launch an attack on the Salford’ try-line, where another wide pass to the right wing restored Hull’s four points lead.
Not for long, however, with Salford delivering a well-executed kick-off into open space and regathered the ball to put themselves back on the attack, which culminated with Stevens and Connell combining superbly for the full back to go under the posts and for the conversion to put the home side ahead for the first time, at 22-20.
Throughout the game, Hull had always been capable of capitalising on the Red Devils’ mistakes, and when the ball was lost in a tackle, the visitors restored their four-point lead with a try and conversion.
The determining moment came sixteen minutes from the end, when Stevens made a magnificent solo break through the Hull ranks, kicked over the fullback’s head, but was prevented from scoring by a last-chance, desperate, obstruction, and from the resultant penalty the visitors were made to pay for the offence when Myles Paul, with his opposite winger now no longer a threat and sitting out ten minutes on the touchline, was put in at the corner, 26-26.
The extra man was utilised again ten minutes from the end, when Paul doubled his tally for the afternoon and he and his teammates clung on, to take the spoils.
Coach, Danny Barton, was more than pleased with his charges’ performance, and also the game itself, “It was a really good game to watch, because it was so intense, and the teams were so evenly matched.
“I was particularly pleased by the way our lads dug in together, and there was a definite improvement from last week’s game against Huddersfield. There are always going to be errors in matches at this level, but we reacted particularly well in defence to any we made, when we didn’t compound the difficulty with any further ones.
“Our forwards were great, and Welsh international, Charlie Glover was my choice as man of the match, but our back three, of Jack Kenway, George Charnock, and Lukas Prescott also had impressive games.”
Nathan Connell, Myles Paul, Louis Lord, Josh Wagstaffe, Ellis Kelly, Lucas Coan, Jack Stevens, Charlie Glover, Henry Moran, Kai Parker, Jack Kenway, George Charnock, Lukas Prescott
Chris Eves, Marshall Yates, Ben Wilkinson, Linden Taylor, Billy Wadeson