Author: David Clegg

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH:  SALFORD v ST HELENS

At the end of a season filled with ups and downs, not solely for Salford but probably for the whole of rugby league, with the complexities around covid and its associated restrictions, the Red Devils eventually brought the curtain down on their proceedings, with an uplifting home victory over the mighty Saints.

First glance at the fixture list, back in early March, might well have filled the most ardent of fans with some qualms over the game, particularly after two previous defeats to the reigning Super League Champions, but that was all erased, on Friday evening, when the Red Devils restored some equilibrium in the balance of wins, with an impressive and entertaining performance.

Both teams were fielding somewhat depleted sides, with the difference being that, in the case of the Saints it was by choice, whereas with Salford it was a case of the team selecting itself, with their having a somewhat depleted squad of players fit to play.  The emphasis in the St Helens team was undoubtedly on youth, but with a number of well-known names spread around their line-up, to prompt and guide them through the encounter.

It is only to be expected that, with a group of young players, and indeed some of them making their debuts, that they would put a great deal of effort and energy into getting a good start, and that is exactly what they did.

Utilising the pace and skill of Regan Grace, on the left flank, the visitors twice, within the first fifteen minutes, worked overlaps for him to make speedy progress down the touchline to set up converted tries on both occasions.  That, however, with the exception of a solitary penalty goal, later in the half, was to be the sum total of their points, with their being held scoreless in the second half.

Salford, on the other hand, grew into the game to take complete control in a purple patch at the start of the second half, with three tries and two conversions taking the game away from the visitors, with its total of sixteen points.

The most important aspect of dealing with the expected onslaught from a young, or lower division opposition, is to keep in contention with them even if they do manage to score a couple of times, and this, Salford did most efficiently, sandwiching their first try, by Ken Sio, yet once more from Tui Lolohea’s crucial pass to score in the corner, between the Saints’ brace.

A ten-point deficit, at half time might not have been impossible to overcome, but diminishing it to a mere four, a couple of minutes from the half-time whistle, was the game changing moment, because the Saints’ youngsters went into the dressing-room having discharged some great degree of energy, but now, consequently, with little to show for it.

How fitting it was, therefore, that this most important of scores was at the hands of former Saints’ Youth product, Mat Costello, who got on the end of a four-man passing move to the right, and then used Sio as a foil before sliding over for a try, which must have brought him a great deal of satisfaction.

Saints’ slender lead lasted but three minutes into the second half.  A scoot by Man of the Match, Andy Ackers, from dummy half, found the ever-improving Ellis Robson in support, and he provided the final pass to Chris Atkin to go under the posts, with Inu’s conversion putting Marshall’s men ahead for the first time.

Four minutes later, Ellis was to underline his growing impact on the game, when he ran strongly onto Lolohea’s pass to score to the right of the posts.  It was then only a further six minutes before the game was ostensibly put to bed, with Atkin’s unselfish pass, in the in-goal area to Sio, for the final try of the afternoon.

Emulating, almost exactly, Grace’s contributions for Saints in the first half, Rhys Williams sped down the left touch line before kicking into the in-goal area where Atkin was not only first to the ball found time to await Sio’s arrival to touch down, thereby ensuring that he would finish as the game’s top try scorer for the regular season.

Not only is this so very greatly to his credit, because there have been some incredible long-range efforts among them, which have been so vital in securing a number  of the seven victories they have acquired this season, it is also, as I am sure Ken would agree, equally credit to the players inside him, who have done their less applauded fetes in enabling him to finish off their efforts, by crossing the try line.  Ken, and the whole of Salford, should be highly elated by his magnificent achievement.

As for the remaining twenty-five minutes, the team deserve as much credit for their achievement then, as for the try -scoring exploits before.  There have been occasions, this season, when they have put themselves in a position to win, only to let the game slip, with some basic or reckless errors.  Not so this time.

On Friday night, their game management, in that final period was first class.  They recognised that even without the two points which were lost when one of Inu’s conversions hit the upright, that the twelve-point lead was sufficient, if not comfortable, cushioning.  They rolled up their sleeves on defence, put in the hard yardage with ball in hand, and finished sets with telling kicks, and chases, to match, all to the greatest avail in concluding the season on an unquestionable high, which behoves well for next season.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WARRINGTON v SALFORD

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WARRINGTON v SALFORD

You only had to see what appeared to be the sheer delight and ecstasy on the faces of the Warrington supporters, that greeted George Williams’s match winning drop goal in extra time, to realise just how close to defeat their favourites had come, in their final home game of the season, last Saturday, before embarking upon the end-of-season play-offs.

Yet, one would suspect that the scenes of celebration somewhat masked the more prevalent and dominant underlying sense of relief, which they felt at that moment, which was remarkable, in itself, for, as a contest, this match was a ‘dead rubber’ with neither side having anything to gain other than satisfaction from victory, nor anything particularly to lose from defeat.

That, however, was not how the game was played, with no quarter being given as the two teams pitched in and fought for advantage over the other.  What must have added to the Wolves’ sense of relief was the inescapable knowledge not only that Salford should have won, but that they, rather than the home side, were the architects of their own defeat having been presented with the most golden of opportunities to take the game, in the opening thirty seconds of extra time.  But more of that later.

True it was that Warrington had rested some key players, but no-one could remotely suggest that the Red Devils were at anything like full strength.  It is just that the likes of Seb Ikahihifo, Pauli-Pauli, James Greenwood, and Kallum Watkins have been missing for so long now that their replacements are beginning to look more like the first choice, starting, team.

It took just seven minutes for Salford to take the lead, in a game in which, with the exception of a fifteen minute spell, mid-way through the first half, they were to have at least equal footing with their hosts, and at times the ascendency

The opening forays were quite even with first Salford going close, when Tui Lolohea followed up his own kick into the in-goal area but was unable to get a controlled grounding of the ball, after Salford had dominated early possession, and then the Wolves forcing a goal-line drop-out at the other end, all of which proved to be a foretaste of the intensity and action-packed entertainment, which was to follow.

A lost ball by Thewlis in a three man tackle gave Salford possession twenty metres out from the home line, and a particularly strong run up by Jack Ormondroyd took them much closer, and his quick play-the-ball, near to the posts, saw the ball moved out to the right with Lolohea’s telling pass putting Ken Sio in for his, now, customary try in the corner.  It seems to matter not one jot how many of our previous goal-kickers are missing, Salford always seem able to produce another one to replace them.  On this occasion it was Morgan Escare who slotted the ball over from the touchline, with consummate ease

Their lead, however, was somewhat short-lived, with the Wolves hitting back with no less than three tries coming between the fifteenth and thirtieth minutes, which gave a rather foreboding outlook to the remainder of the game.

Just how unpredictable this game had become,, and would continue to be, was epitomised two minutes from half-time.  With the home side looking comfortable in their ten point lead, having just rebuffed a Salford attack on their line, then progressing to the half way line before moving the ball to their left in the hope of getting around the Reds’ defence.

They reckoned, however, without the pressure that Widdop would be subject to, from right centre Joe Burgess, as the half backendeavoured to receive the ball.  The outcome was that it ricocheted out of his arms into those of Si,o who cut through the inviting gap in front of him, to score his second try, this time  to the right of the posts.

Going in at half time only four points behind was certainly a vast improvement on the previously impending deficit of ten, bringing encouragement for their application in the second half.  Arm wrestle upon arm wrestle ensued as both sides fought for superiority, which when it came was in favour of the Red Devils.  Eighteen minutes into the half, Sam Luckley, with four defenders wrapped around him, managed to squeeze out the most incredible off-load to Chris Atkin, who set up his half back partner Tui Lolohea to scythe through the defence and score to the left of the posts, which, with Inu’s conversion, put the visitors back in front.

This, the final try of the game was not, however, to be the end of the drama, nor the scoring.  With less than ten minutes to play, Warrington, whose attacks had been repulsed and repelled for what felt an eternity, were thrown a lifeline, when a careless tackle by Danny Addy not only saw him sinbinned, but, worse still, the two point lead, they had all fought so valiantly to protect, was wiped out by the subsequent penalty goal.

Add to that, the trading of three drop goals, one of which was wiped off, for a Warrington obstruction on a Salford defender, and, by the final whistle, excitement was at fever pitch, and all still to play for, in Golden Point extra time.

Salford have not had any great success in this aspect of the game, more or less since the Million Pound Game, but that all appeared about to change with the most wonderful kick off, from Krisnan Inu.  That kick, which landed in the field of play, in no-man’s land, ricocheted at right angles into touch, giving Salford position and possession at whichever point across the field they wished to choose.

So simple then, to play-the-ball in front of the Warrington posts, whip it back to the kicker to slot over, and rejoice.  If only!  That kick of Inu’s would have been the match winning kick in any game, and should have been the match winner in this, if only the players had taken that simple, obvious option.

Instead they set about completing an unnecessary set of six, in which every tackle is a risk, and there is a risk in every pass, they got through the set but then had no clear-cut opportunity to drop kick, with Inu’s hastily snatched attempt going wide.  Warrington, most thankfully, utilised their seven-tackle restart to set up Williams to take the game for the Wolves, and thereby release the delirium of emotions for their fans.

No matter, though, for this was, as we said at the outset, a ‘dead rubber’ in which nothing was won nor lost.  It just didn’t feel that way, to anyone!

LESLIE JAMES BETTINSON

Salford Red Devils are extremely saddened to report the passing of a true and absolute stalwart of the club for over half a century, Les Bettinson, during the course of which he dedicated a lifetime of commitment to the Salford cause, in almost as many roles as it is possible to fill.

Les was born, and brought up in the Cumbrian town of Millom, for whose rugby union team he played in during his early twenties.  An out and out centre three-quarter, he had a class about him on the field which had, from a much earlier date, attracted the attention of the immortal Gus Risman, whilst he was, both on and off the field, leading Workington Town to their glory days, in the early fifties. On his appointment as manager to Salford, he promptly secured Les’s signature to join the Reds, with his debut coming against Batley, on 9th March 1957.

Les’s dedication to the club he had joined was exemplified in an outstanding run of eighty-one consecutive matches, which began at the start of the 1962/3 season and ran right through that, and the following season, to eventually come to a halt at the start of the 1964/5 season.  In total, he turned out on three hundred and seventeen occasions, with a further two as a substitute, over his 12-year playing career with Salford, during which time he crossed for 75 tries, and booted over 10 goals, which gave him a magnificent haul of 245 points.

His prowess as a player was recognised by his home county, with his selection for Cumberland, as it was then named, on seven occasions, the first of which came a mere six months after he joined Salford, to face Yorkshire, at The Boulevard, Hull.  Cumberland became County Champions in both 1965/6 and 1966/7, which saw Les involved in both of these great successes.

His testimonial season came in 1966/7, when he received a rugby league record amount of £2,500, and he celebrated by becoming Salford’s top try scorer, crossing on eleven occasions.  Although his career was somewhat prior to the glory days which were to follow, Les was one of a very few, who provided the platform for the relatively new Chairman, Brian Snape, to build his Championship winning side upon, and from 1964, Les had the pleasure of seeing the club improving season by season.  In 1967, he was part of the team which progressed to the third round of the Challenge Cup, notably beating St Helens, 8-3, in the first round replay at Knowsley Rd, in which he scored a crucial try and was instrumental in their other one.

To back this up, they travelled to Central Park, where they repeated their giant-killing act with an 18-6 victory over Wigan, in which Les was once again on the list of scorers, as indeed he was in the surprising 9-7 quarter final reversal, at Dewsbury in the most difficult of playing conditions.  Although this brought that season’s progress to a halt, their achievements in beating two of the top sides on their own grounds was a milestone in the overall development of the club to the higher echelons themselves, with Les being a lynchpin in this.

The career of any sportsman is relatively short, and Les’s 12+ seasons was quite exceptional in itself, with it eventually coming to its finale with his last match in the Salford jersey coming in the home fixture against Wigan, on 10th September 1969.  The club, however, were fully mindful of the calibre of the person who had been exceptionally loyal throughout his playing days, and so retained his services as support to, then coach, Griff Jenkins. When, in 1970, Cliff Evans took over the coaching role, Les’s role took on the title of assistant coach, eventually for him to become senior coach, part way through the 1973/4 season, upon the retirement of Evans on health grounds.

This was a position in which he was destined to eclipse all his achievements with Salford as a player, with the club reaching its pinnacle, by twice winning the First Division Championship, in 1973/4 and 1975/6.  Alongside this, they lifted the BBC2 Floodlit Cup in 1974/5, and won through to the Finals of the Lancashire Cup in 1974 and 1975, and the Premiership Trophy in 1976.

His retirement from coaching came in 1977, when he was immediately made a member of the Board of Directors, where he became Salford’s representative on the Rugby League’s Management Committee.  His personal qualities were such that, in 1986, he was appointed Great Britain Manager, leading, and organising, the GB tour of Australia and New Zealand, in 1988, with his own appointee, Malcolm Reilly, as coach.  The ultimate accolade came in the same season when he was elected as the first President of the Rugby Football League, for the 1988/9 season, while he also became Chairman of the Rugby League Coaching Committee.

Off the field, Les was the ultimate gentleman, and was so hugely respected by all.  He always had the utmost time for any individual who wished to speak with him, and the respect which his own players had for him has been evident from the comments that have been received from so many of them.  He was someone who held the best interests of the club at his heart throughout the decades through which he was associated with the Red Devils.  Long after he stepped down from the Board of Directors in 1991, after 34 years of involvement, he was a regular attender at Salford’s home games for at least another 15 years before ill health laid him low.

Sadly, Les passed away, peacefully, on the morning of 9th September, after a lengthy illness, and with his passing, Salford have lost a champion and friend of the club, the likes of whom are so few and far between.  One material thing he has left us, however, are his own personal insights into the game he held so dear, in the form of two books, of which he was author: ‘The Rugby league Coach’ (1986), and ‘In The Lions’ Den’ (1991).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Graham Morris, Club Historian & author ‘Salford 100 Greats’

Paul Whiteside, photographs

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: MAGIC WEEKEND v CASTLEFORD

It was a match most worthy of the honour of opening the long-awaited return to St James’ Park, Newcastle, for a Dacia Magic Weekend, after two previous postponements, with the Red Devils going head-to-head with Castleford, in a finely balanced, highly entertaining contest.

The misfortunes surrounding injuries and Covid, which have haunted the Salford squad for much of the season, took its toll yet again, when, not for the first time, the Red Devils lost one of their starting line-up in the warm-up, when second rower, Harvey Livett, was forced to pull out, thus triggering a hasty rearrangement of the side.

The Reds, nevertheless, shook off this latest disruption to their game plans, and for much of the encounter equalled and tested the Tigers, for whom there was certainly far more at stake, with a place in the top six play-offs at their beckoning.

Spectators from both sides of the Pennines were certainly kept on the edge of their seats as the Yorkshire side, on three occasions, took the lead, only to see it either cancelled out, as on the first two occasions, or later eroded into, thereby keeping the Red Devils well and truly in contention throughout the great majority of the eighty minutes.

Whilst the Castleford team can be said to have been the more clinical of the two, taking their chances whenever they came their way, it was Salford who provided the greater degree of entertainment with their wide, expansive rugby, which kept their opponents’ defence on the move and on their toes, throughout.

Their first try, on thirteen minutes, typified this, with the ball being moved first from right to left, following a tap penalty, before Sarginson and Lolohea in turn wove back along the line to the right, for Tui to feed the ball to Ken Sio, who cut inside to add to his growing tally of scores for the season.

Ten minutes later, the ball was passed through five pairs of hands, with a slickness that completely outflanked the Castleford defence to get the ball to Joe Burgess, who showed that he could finish off such moves as equally efficiently, on his wing.

Unfortunately, it was to be a further thirty-three minutes before the Reds could add to that score, and, in the meantime, Castleford had not only restored their lead, two minutes before halftime, they had extended it six minutes into the second half.

The one try Salford did score, mid-way through that second period, came after a prolonged period of pressure on the Castleford line, in which strong carries from Luckley, Lolohea, and Johnson, got them within a couple of metres of the Tigers’ line, whose swift line speed was foiled by Ata Hingano’s feinted pass which enabled him to cross for his first try since joining the club.

Unfortunately, it was to be of little significance on its own, and needed to have been backed up with at least one other score to have got the Reds back into the game, score-wise.  As far as possession and opportunity were concerned, however, they had both of these aplenty, for several minutes beforehand, and continued to do so, for much of the remainder of the game, but without any further reward.

Indeed, it was Castleford, who went on to add one further try on seventy-two minutes, and a Jordan Turner drop-goal, at the death.  That their line was breached on five occasions was something of a disappointment after their magnificent defence against Hull, five days earlier, but having been called upon to turn out on four occasions, in a mere fourteen days, this must surely have been a contributing factor especially when every other team, Leigh apart, had played on either the Thursday or Friday of the week before, at a time when even a single day’s difference would have been a significant recovery differential.

Salford supporters can nevertheless, enjoy the satisfaction of the contribution the team made to an enjoyable contest and a truly magnificent occasion, which was a credit to everyone at the RFL involved in successfully staging such a complex event at this time, as well as to the participating clubs, players and fans who attended.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v HULL FC

A magnificent second half performance put the seal on what was arguably Salford’s best all round performance of the season, which sent home the Salford fans brimming with sheer delight, and the Humbersiders with their tails firmly between their legs.

Hull got off to the best of starts, opening the scoring after only three minutes’ play, when Jake Connor scooted from dummy half to set up the supporting Ligi Sao with an easy run in, to the left of the posts.

Twice, over the following ten minutes, the visitors carved out openings for themselves in the Salford defence, but were, fortunately, forced into errors which prevented any further scores, and from that the Red Devils gained some little confidence which saw them start to put pressure on the Hull line.

A penalty for off-side gave them back-to-back sets, with Greg Burke being brought to a halt, but not to ground, close to the posts, and his quick play-the-ball enabled dummy half Chris Atkin, to continue the move to the right, with halfbacks Ata Hingano and Tui Lolohea getting the ball to the unmarked Ken Sio who went in, at the corner.

Krisnan Inu landed his first kick from the touchline, and went on to land each and every one of his seven attempts, many of them from out wide, all of which helped the Reds build up an unassailable lead, relatively quickly, once they got on top.

That was for later, though.  In the meantime, Hull were able to retake the lead with a penalty goal from Mark Sneyd, until five minutes from halftime, when the Red Devils scored the most remarkable of tries, from a volley of kicks.

First, Atkin put in a high, end-of-set kick to Joe Burgess’s corner, where, as he so frequently does, he climbed high in the air to knock the ball back to Sarginson, who, in turn put in a cross-field kick to the right.  This was taken by Ken Sio, who promptly responded with a low short kick of his own into the in-goal area, to where he followed through with the grounding, to put Salford in front 12-8, at the interval.

Fans’ satisfaction with that lead, during the break, was possibly tempered somewhat with concern as to how the visitors might respond in the second half, and respond they certainly did, after seven minutes, with their second try from former Salford half back, Mark Sneyd’s in-goal grubber kick, which ricocheted well from the upright, for Danny Houghton to restore the Yorkshire side’s advantage.

The arm wrestle, which this had interrupted, then continued for a further ten minutes, during which both sides vied to take the ascendency, which, when it eventually came, was well and truly taken by the Red Devils.

Belying the fact that they were squaring up to a big set of forwards, the Salford pack which contained not a single member of the club’s starting pack, at the start of the season, continued exactly where they had left off against the massive forwards of Catalans Dragons, four days earlier.

First, and most importantly, they significantly improved their defensive capabilities, by increasing to three, the number of players involved in many of the tackles, instead of relying on one-on-one attempts to bring down bigger and stronger opponents.  Indeed, Jack Ormondroyd had had his afternoon brought to a prematurely early finish, after he had been laid out in one of the opening clashes.

In addition, the hard graft of making yardage up field was shared out with the three-quarters, all of whom made their fair share of progress into the Hull ranks, and towards their line.  Ken Sio may quite well have been awarded Man of the Match, not only for his great fete in scoring four tries, but also, for his strong contribution, in this respect, throughout the game.

The rewards for this spate of sheer hard graft, were to come in the last quarter of the game, when their leg-weary opponents were really put to the torch.  Salford, still looking remarkably fresh, put together a display of first-class entertainment by means of top-drawer attacking skills, which completely ripped the Hull defence to shreds.

In the final twenty-two minutes, Marshall’s men scored no less than five converted tries producing a total of thirty points which they accrued at a rate of well over a point per minute.  Salford have invariably looked a well-drilled attacking side, but often spoiling things with simple errors.  There was none of that, on Monday, and as the game sped quickly by, it looked more and more as though they could score at will, and they more or less did exactly that.

The avalanche was started on 57 mins, by Atkin, with a scoot from dummy half, but the build up to that simple act had lasted exactly three and a quarter minutes of ball-in-play action, during which they started no less than eight sets, as a consequence of three set-restarts, two penalties, a Hull touch-in-flight, and a goal-line drop-out.  Little wonder, then, that that final scoot caught the opposition’s defence somewhat off-guard.

The remaining four scores were considerably more straight forward, with Burgess, once again, scaling the heights in Hull’s in-goal area, this time to palm the ball back to Harvey Livett for the first.  This was followed three minutes later by smooth hands sending the ball from right to left, with a final, telling, pass from Lolohea to the unmarked Burgess, who romped home to put the game well beyond the aspirations of the visitors.

Indeed, their subsequent kick-off failed to make the required ten metre mark, which meant Salford were in possession and on the attack again.  This time the ball was moved to the right and Lolahea’s pass on this occasion put Sio in for his hat-trick.

It had, however, been a couple of weeks since we had last seen that Salford hallmark of a length of the field try, down the right flank, so cue, Inu, once again, to be provider and Sio to round off an incredible afternoon for the Red Devils, and, on a personal note, for himself, also.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v CATALANS

It might seem an extremely large step up from playing twelfth placed Leigh in one match, to be facing current league leaders Catalans, four days later, yet, in truth, the Salford Red Devils fared far better against the Frenchmen than many might have expected.

Not that the scoreboard reflected that, with the visitors crossing for a total of seven tries, but the Reds were in contention for much of the game, going over for three of their own.

Even more disappointing was the fifty-fifty decision going against Morgan Escare, halfway through the second forty, when he hared over the line, only for an obstruction to be ruled.  An additional four, or even six, points would have benefitted the Red Devils greatly, at that particular time, with the Dragons being down to twelve men, with McIlorum in the sin-bin.  Furthermore, Salford were to have a second, but less debatable, try ruled out for offside, shortly before the end.

The size of the visiting pack was immense, and with Salford’s pack lacking the likes of Pauli Pauli, Seb Ikahihifo, James Greenwood and Elijah Taylor – not to mention the now retired, Lee Mossop – those who had to go head-to-head with Sam Kasiano, along with Julien Bousquet, Jordan Dezaria, and others, did extremely well to keep them in check to the extent that they did.

Understandably, when in possession, the Red Devils’ plan was to go round the outside of their opponents, and the return of Chris Atkin, in particular, helped considerably with this, as also did the move back to stand -off of Tui Lolohea.  The ball was moved with a pace, and a slickness, that had been nowhere near as in evidence the weekend before, thereby moving the Catalans defence around and wearing some of their energy from them.

For the second consecutive game Harvey Livett underlined his return to his early season form by getting on the scoresheet, when he showed considerable command and pace, running onto Lolohea’s clever pass, all of which took him through the French defensive line for the Red Devils’ first try, on thirty-four minutes.  If only they could have then kept their line intact to half time it might have been an even tougher test of the Dragons, with Salford back in clear contention.

As it was, Kasiano burst onto a short pass, like a thunderbolt, to score in the dying seconds of the half, and infuriatingly Catalans did the same in the last minute of the second period, which total of twelve points took the visitors well away from the Red Devils.

For much of the second period, however, Marshall’s men matched, and troubled, their opponents for lengthy periods.  Three minutes after the restart, a really good attacking move saw the ball go, swiftly and tellingly, through the hands of Ackers, Addy, and Atkin, to Dan Sarginson, who followed up his initial kick, later diverted infield by Williams, to touch down for Salford’s second try.

Ten minutes from the end, man-of-the-match, Escare, gained some compensation for his earlier lost attempt by winding up Salford’s tally with their final score.  A penalty kick put them in position, and then after a strong carry towards the line by Josh Johnson, half backs, Atkin and Lolohea, combined well to put the fullback through the gap they had opened up.

While it might have seemed something of a consolation score, the fact that for this try, and the earlier two, the Red Devils had produced some rewards for their hard work by thrice putting the league leaders between their own goalposts, with fine handling skills, should give them encouragement for the games still to come.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: LEIGH v SALFORD

The sheer importance of the Rivals Round was always going to be far greater to Leigh than to the Red Devils, for whom it was the first of four matches in a fortnight, with a mere four days between each, whereas for the winless Centurions, it represented the latest of only a handful of lingering games, from which they might be able to secure a victory.

Of course, when you are faced with the number of fixtures being crammed into the next fortnight, culminating with the Magic Weekend, you work on a one game at a time basis, and do all you can to start with a win, by being totally focused on the task in hand and clinical in your execution.

And that is just how the Red Devils started the game, running in the first try of the afternoon, in under two minutes, when Kevin Brown cleverly changed the direction of the attack back towards the left, which completely wrong footed the home side and presented the flawless, Rhys Williams, with a walk-in at the corner.

There is always a danger in scoring too early and too easily, because time and time again it seems to have a demotivating effect on the team which goes ahead without having even been tested, in any way.  That certainly is how it appeared with Salford, with their work ethic being forgotten in their eagerness to secure further easy pickings, which led to a number of unforced errors manifesting themselves.

Leigh, meanwhile, had been caught cold and sought to rectify it with ball in hand, once some possession came their way, and those Salford errors certainly helped.  Not only that, the errors gave them the encouragement to apply pressure on the Reds’ attack, and force even more.

From that point on, Leigh had lengthy periods of possession, which they put to good use, gaining in confidence as each repeat set came their way, and playing some extremely fluent rugby, while the visitors had to spend far too long and far too much energy defending their line, which they kept intact, until Joe Mellor’s quick thinking, on 18 mins, caught them out with a chip and chase to open the home account, to which they added another well-worked try from Keanan Brand.

To be fair, Salford players did what any team would do, when taken by surprise by another, which was to stick with them points-wise, until the game swung in their favour, and they got more plentiful possession, and the ascendency.  Consequently, they turned round at the interval only four points adrift, following a further converted touch-down from Harvey Livett.

Hopes that, for the second half, they might have redressed the problems, with which they had presented themselves, soared, when they went ahead through the first of Ken Sio’s brace, but Leigh had a strategy which they stuck to with the utmost rigour.  They had been in similar positions in the past, and had learned from those; this time no-one was going to be let off the hook.

In all Leigh slotted over five penalty goals, one in the first half, and the ten points accrued, proved, in the end, to be the difference between the sides.

Ryan Lannon was unfortunate not to ground the ball to the referee’s satisfaction. Former Salford players, Liam Hood and Adam Sidlow, went through to put the home side well ahead, although Salford had the final say with Sio’s second, after the hooter had sounded.

With the remaining games coming thick and fast, it is important that the players quickly consign this one to the bin, and take what they have learned from it into Thursday’s visit from Catalans.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD v HUDDERSFIELD

There are few teams with whom Salford have been as evenly matched, season after season in the Super League era, as Huddersfield.  True there have been periods when first Salford, and then later, Huddersfield have had their periods of ascendency, but in the more recent of years there has been virtually nothing to choose between the two of them, with their invariably winning one match each, remarkably, in their away fixtures.

Bearing that in mind, and also the fact that the Red Devils had already come out on top at the John Smith’s Stadium back in June, and with their rivals having shown some rather more impressive form of late, we might have all been of the mind-set, going into the game, that the Giants could prove too strong, on the night. A resilient performance however from Marshall’s men, ensured Salford made it three Super League wins in a row against the Giants.

Not only that, but the manner in which they pulled this off was quite commendable, in a match which turned out to be an arm wrestle from start to finish.  So much of their victory was down to their uncompromising defence, as there were two periods, of ten to fifteen minutes, when they were penned in their own half, having to withstand, and repel, onslaught after onslaught of Huddersfield attacks.

The first came early in the proceedings, when a penalty to the visitors for a high tackle put them in a great field position, where they proceeded to enjoy five, almost continuous, back-to-back sets of six, which ended with them taking a two-point lead, courtesy of a penalty for offside, at a play-the-ball.

It was of interest to note the number of penalties, from which Huddersfield took a shot at goal, rather than running the ball, giving them a total of six points – the equivalent of a converted try.  They must have assessed, from recent matches, that there would be sufficient of these to lay the foundation to their winning the game.  In the event this did not prove to be the case, with, thankfully, the Red Devils being a little more frugal in this respect, than in the previous two matches.

The second period came with a lengthy endeavour from the Giants to get back on level terms, and then possibly steal the game with a drop goal.  Nail-biting as this spell was, it has to be said that the Salford players rose to the challenge superbly, and they never seemed to be hanging on by a thread; that is, until four minutes from the end.

During both these prolonged periods of pressure, Salford had had great reason to be thankful to left winger Joe Burgess, who had dealt with every tricky, end-of-set kick towards his edge with great aplomb, using his height to outleap any challenging Giant, and pluck the ball out of the air before any damage could be done.

Four minutes from time, however, that gratitude turned into indebtedness, when his opposite number headed with ball in hand for the corner.  Not to be outdone, however, five metres from the line, Burgess caught him from behind, and despite being dragged along the ground from the momentum which had been built up, succeeded in halting all progress completely with the ball coming loose before it could be grounded, in what must have been the tackle of the match.

With ball in hand, Salford once again showed the degree of control and understanding with one another in each passage of play, showing incredible patience in the first half when this brought field position and applied pressure, but without reward, points-wise.  That however did not last for ever;  just thirty-six minutes to be precise.  There have been other matches this season when length of the field tries down the right flank have, from the opposition’s mistakes, turned the game in their favour.

This time, it was not Ken Sio who was there to sprint the length of the field but Rhys Williams who did every bit as well.  Nor was it the first time that Krisnan Inu has been the one who intercepted the pass to set up his winger with this race downfield to score.  The beauty of interception tries is that for the opposition it is a ‘double whammy’ because, as on this occasion, they are often within touching distance of a try for themselves, whilst the dent to their confidence takes some little time to overcome.

Even worse, from their point of view, was to succumb to not just one, but a pair of tries, either side of the interval, the second of which came on 42 mins, when Tui Lolohea showed how well he is settling into the fullback role, by timing his insertion into the Red Devils’ attacking line so that he could cut through for a typical fullback’s try, to put Salford ahead for the first time.

That lead had to be recouped fifteen minutes later, after Huddersfield had knocked over two penalty goals to restore their two-point advantage, but what a well-worked try it was, with Andy Ackers drilling the ball into the in-goal area from dummy half, and Jack Ormondroyd showing an exceptional turn of pace for a prop, to ground the ball behind the posts, before it ran dead.

A further six points were available shortly after, when Danny Addy broke through before handing on to Lolohea. Unfortunately, Tui’s pass to Chris Atkin was, surprisingly, called as forward, so the chance was lost.  Had it resulted in a try it is distinctly possible that Salford would have gone on to score a couple of others, on the back of it.  As it was, they were required to return to the high level of defence they had shown earlier which, with Burgess’s final involvement, secured them the win.

It is only fitting that such a gruelling, hard fought, battle should be won in the name of the magnificent Lee Mossop, whose contribution to the development of the club in recent years cannot be overstated.  He has led the team out, at Old Trafford in the 2019 Grand Final, and then at Wembley in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final – two finals for which Salfordians had waited fifty years, to witness.

His contribution on the field has been there for all to see, but his influence off the field has been equally as great.  I, for one, am more than grateful to Lee for his consideration, kindness, and support, which I have received, throughout the time he has been with us, as indeed, I am sure, is everyone else who has had the pleasure and privilege of working with, or playing alongside, him.

We can only now thank him for all he has done for Salford Red Devils, wish him all the very best in the future, and be pleased that the players whom he has led all season, were able to give him, and the rest of us, this victory, in his honour.

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: WIGAN v SALFORD

With a two-week gap since their last outing, Salford Red Devils will probably have been glad just to get back to their task of playing a game once again, with this their first return to the DW Stadium, since that magnificent victory over Wigan Warriors in the semi-final of the 2019 play-offs.

Certainly, that appeared to be the case, as they settled into their game in the first half, producing a well organised and challenging opposition to the home side, from the outset, and although the Warriors had a greater proportion of possession, and the better field position in the very early stages, the Red Devils soaked up the pressure, limiting their hosts to a solitary, unconverted try in the right corner, from winger Halsall, on twelve minutes.

From that point, the visitors took control, showing all the positive elements of their defence and attack which had been in evidence, at Leeds, a fortnight ago.  In particular, it was a joy to watch the Salford forwards making such good inroads into the opposition’s defensive line, often turning a difficult start to the set, close to their own line, and finishing it with a kick from within the Wigan half, which, with a good chase, completely turned the tables on the Warriors, leaving them to struggle to get away from their line.

From all the work and endeavour came the reward of points on the board, the first of which came with Joe Burgess’s crossing in the corner, in his first league game against his former club, after good handling through six pairs of hands.

One aspect of their attack which did seem to need some further attention, however, was their ability to score from close range.  On a number of occasions, the Reds got within five or ten metres of Wigan’s try line, only to lose possession early in the tackle count, and that failure to turn position into further points was to cost them dearly as the game proceeded.

Nevertheless, they were able to leave the field at halftime with a two-point lead, courtesy of Harvey Livett’s last minute penalty goal, which compensated for his missed conversion attempt earlier, and enthusiasm for a second victory on Wigan soil must have begun to grow among the Salford faithful.

Sadly, this time the Reds had merely flattered to deceive, as they failed to live up to the expectations they had placed upon themselves in the first half.  In retrospect, it may appear to be that Wigan simply upped their game, and that Salford were unable to compete with them, thereafter.

That, however, would be an over-simplification of events, particularly at the start of the half.  Yes, Wigan did become rather more mobile in defence, and increased their line-speed to try to apply greater pressure, but possibly more importantly, the Red Devils fell away from the good things which they had produced to such fine effect in the first forty.

Errors with ball in hand started to become more evident, providing the Warriors a much more unequal level of possession, and an almost constant foothold in the Salford half, all of which led them to drift away from the game plan, with players trying to fix things in their own way, thereby causing at least a little confusion among the rest of the team.

Most discouragingly, the discipline, which they had shown throughout the opening stanza, deserted them, and the penalty count started to rack up against them, not, thankfully, compounded by dissent this time, for they left Lee Mossop to carry out his role, as captain, of seeking clarification from the referee, on certain decisions.  Poor execution and judgement were the main causes, especially once Jackson Hastings was moved to half back bringing a new dimension to Wigan’s attack, and the Warriors were only too eager to keep their score increasing, by slotting over three kickable attempts.

Although no longer classed as a penalty, infringements at the ruck are still punished by set restarts, the extra tackles from which add quite significantly to the fatigue and pressure on teams, particularly when the restart comes on the final tackle of a set, as happened on three occasions in that second period.  With so much turning against them it has to be said that the Salford defence did exceedingly well to keep their line intact until twenty-seven minutes after the restart, when John Bateman successfully squeezed through.

Most, on Friday evening, will have felt an over-riding feeling of disappointment that having done so much to put themselves in such a good position, the team fell away somewhat in the second half.  That in itself is an extremely strong indicator of the considerable progress the club and the team have made in recent years.

A TRIBUTE TO DAVID FELL

It is with great sadness that we pay this tribute to our former utility back, David Fell, following a tragic accident, on Friday 23rd July, at the cruelly early age of fifty-five.

David was born on the 25th April 1966, and hailed from Wigan.  His early playing days were in rugby union with Orrell, through whose youth ranks he progressed before being signed by Salford, on a five-year contract, in October 1989, aged 23.

His first team debut came a few weeks later, on November 12th, when he turned out in the centre to face Leeds, at The Willows, where the visitors ran out winners with the final score of 18-38.

He became a regular in the side over the next couple of seasons, with his ability to play in most positions in the back line, but particularly as an inside back at centre or stand-off.  In the sixty-one games in which he started, eight were at fullback, 24 were in the centre, 19 were as stand-off half, and 10 saw him at scrum-half.  He also came off the bench, as substitute, for a further 12 games.

One of his great assets as a player, was his ability to anticipate opportunities for scoring tries, which he exploited by following his forwards around the field, accruing a total of 29 of them, and a points haul of 116.  The 1990/91 season was undoubtedly his best in which he played 38 games and helped the team become Second Division Champions.

The highlight of his time at Salford came in that same season in the final of the Lancashire Cup, against Widnes, at Central Park, Wigan.  Having dominated the game throughout, as a result of David’s and scrum-half, Steve Kerry’s half-back partnership, Salford’s hearts were broken in the last two minutes by a converted Widnes try, which won them the trophy.  David, nevertheless, was most deservedly awarded Man of the Match for his highly impressive performance.

A change of coach at the start of the 1993 season saw a change in his fortunes with the club, and he transferred to Rochdale Hornets, mid-way through the season, in January 1994, before moving on, two years later to join Chorley Borough, in December 1995 for the truncated season ahead of the change to summer rugby.

Salford director of rugby & operations, Ian Blease, had the pleasure and privilege of playing alongside David at Salford, and he had this to say: “David was a great guy, and a really talented rugby player.  He was one of a group of highly talented rugby union converts from Orrell, including Peter Williams and John Gilfillan, who all signed at pretty much the same time as each other and did much to boost the team here at Salford.

“David was the sort of person who fitted in so well with the group of players here, and we all became an especially close-knit team, so much so that we have kept in touch with one another over the years, and more recently have had our own WhatsApp group, of which David was an instrumental part.

“The news, this weekend, has had that WhatsApp group operating flat out, so great was the respect that we had for him as a person and a player.  All of us are absolutely devastated about the news and what has happened to our friend and former teammate.  Steve Gibson, in Australia, for example, was up throughout the night, expressing his grief.

“Our grief, we realise however, is nothing like that which his family must be going through, and we want them to know that they are in the thoughts of everyone here at Salford, and our sympathy and condolences go out to them, especially.”