For the many travelling Salford fans who made the short journey to Leigh Sports Village, last Friday, the memory of a truly splendid evening will last well into the near future, with pre-match entertainment, to celebrate the relaunch of the home club as Leigh Leopards whilst coinciding with their return to Super League, being of the highest calibre anyone could expect. That Salford Red Devils were the team to share in the tremendous atmosphere which consequently ensued was something which the players will relish for some little time to come.
And the game itself did not disappoint. True, there was little in the way of slick expansive rugby, but this is February, and the going underfoot is quite soft and inhibiting in this respect. The tight, finely balanced encounter which unfolded in its place, was most enthralling, keeping everyone’s attention rivetted on the spectacle unfolding, with the result in the balance right to the closing couple of minutes.
This was thanks to the high quality of skills on view from both teams, which led to high completion rates for both, though with Salford’s being the greater, and with unforced errors relatively few and far between, thus enabling continuity of play for good spells.
The Red Devils’ superiority in this area was probably down to their prior Super League experience and to the bulk of the team having played together last season, unlike the Leigh side which was assembled for the first time during the close season In addition, the individual player’s commitment to, knowledge of, and efficacy in undertaking their own particular role was top level, as most easily exemplified by three or four who really caught the eye.
Man of the Match, Ryan Brierley’s contribution to the victory came just as much from two try-saving, second-half tackles on Charnley and Lam together with his unwavering courage and ability to defuse four extremely testing, high bombs, in the final fifteen minutes – thereby securing pressure-relieving possession for the Reds, at such a crucial time – as it came from his attacking involvement and fiftieth minute try.
Pound for pound, Rhys Williams’s involvement will have matched pretty well anyone’s, with his sideways runs in which he evaded tackle after tackle, so often ensuring that the team would not get hemmed into corners, at the start of their sets, whilst debutant, Ollie Partington had class written all over everything he did.
As he often does with this goal-kicking, Marc Sneyd had a hundred percent success rate, which was double that of his opposite kicker. Yes, three of the were from in front of the posts, but the first of them was from out wide, and still needed kicking in order to provide that important, comfortable two-scores lead the Reds enjoyed for most of the second half, particularly when they were down to twelve men for ten minutes, and also during that nervy final quarter, in which Leigh threw everything they had, at them.
If there were an area in which they were outdone by their hosts, it was in their discipline, which let them down in the first half which ended with a 4:1 penalty count against them. A baptism of fire with which they had plagued the home side for the first eight minutes was eventually brought to an end by a penalty early in a tackle count, and with that the momentum of the game swung right over to the Leopards.
Their first attack fizzled out owing to a handling error, but their second penalty was compounded by a set-restart which culminated with their winning the first of two goal-line drop-outs, which both provided them further sets, and, consequently, further waves of attack..
In the end though it is tries which count, and the Red Devils got through the twenty-minute spell by conceding only one in the twenty-first minute from Lam’s wide pass out to Charnley. Their dogged, hard-working defence throughout this period played a significant part in procuring the eventual outcome. Once they restored momentum to themselves, by means of possession and field position, they were able to deliver the counter-punch by means of three well-taken tries around half time.
Brodie Croft, as always, was the springboard for the first on 34 mins, when he put Kallum Watkins through on the charge to the line, and similarly Brierley on 49 mins. In between, the irrepressible Andy Ackers caught out Leigh’s loss of concentration around the ruck, two minutes before half-time, to scoot over and ground between the posts, despite the Leopards’ attempts to deny him. They, for their part, were able to take advantage of Marc Sneyd’s sinbinning, with Hardaker’s penalty try on 59 mins, setting up a nail-biting final quarter.
A most satisfying result, therefore, to get the team a winning start to 2023, and one which hopefully they can build upon in the coming weeks, starting with this coming Thursday’s eagerly awaited, first home fixture with Hull KR – one of the very few teams to take all four points against the Red Devils, in 2022. It is time, and opportunity, to redress the balance.