After an absence of more than twenty years, a brand new Salford Reserves team took to the field once more, last Saturday, at St Helens, in the newly formed Reserves Competition, where they ran the home side extremely close, as the score-line above indicates.
What was more significant, however, was the high level of performance, and cohesion throughout the team, which was evident from the outset, right through to the final whistle, and while both teams produced some fine attacking moves, and sound defences structures, the Saints had had the benefit of a pre-season friendly against Oldham, whereas the Salford side were coming together in their first ever outing.
The side comprised of players from the Salford first team squad, two first team players signed to Swinton, and a selection of young players from the local area, yet throughout the whole game, they played together as one team, with remarkable understanding of each other.
With a strong breeze blowing down the pitch, and favouring the home side in the first half, the Red Devils were at some disadvantage from the kick-off, but for fifteen minutes held firm in an arm wrestle, before succumbing to two quick tries to the Saints.
The first came as a direct result of the elements, with St Helens sensibly taking advantage of the following wind to earn a forty-twenty, from which they then went in under the posts, at the end of the resultant next set. Ten minutes after, they doubled their score to take a 12-0 lead, following a number of back-to-back sets, on the Salford line. The Saints left winger, Jumah Sambou, found space on the outside of the Reds’ defence, to ground the ball in the corner with the conversion being successful.
Things were beginning to look a little ominous for the Red Devils, who had been penned in their own half for great swathes of the game up to this point, and forced to defend their line with all the energy they could muster, but suddenly, possession, which had appeared more and more begun to be the sole preserve of the Saints, swung Salford’s way and they, in turn, were able to start putting more pressure on their hosts.
That pressure brought its rewards in the form of their first score by second rower, Ryan Lannon, who broke through, from Atkin’s pass to ground the ball by the posts, for a try which was goaled by Krisnan Inu.
Five minutes later, Salford got their second from a really good try by stand-off, Chris Atkin, who twice handled the ball – supporting his own pass to receive the return ball – and coast through to cross, giving Inu a straightforward kick to bring the scores level for half time.
With the supporting wind behind them, hopes were high that the Reds would now kick on and take control of the match, and, in the early stages, they did, and within ten minutes from the resumption, briefly took the lead.
A scoot from dummy half on the halfway line, saw Connor Jones break clear to hand on to centre Elliot Kear, who crossed in the left-hand corner. Unfortunately, with little room in which physically to manoeuvre or get a good run-up, because of the kick being right on the touchline, Inu was unable to land the goal, which would have put them further in front, and incidentally tied the final score.
A handling move at the end of a seven tackle set caught out the Salford defence, which had been expecting a kick, and the Saints went in at the right hand corner, with their up and coming starlet, Lewis Dodd, continuing his hundred percent success rate with the boot.
A nip and tuck arm wrestle followed, but the energy, which the Salford players had expended in defence earlier, began to tell, with first their conceding a succession of penalties, followed and compounded by a gradual influx of handling errors, all of which assisted the Saints in setting up wave after wave of attack, causing even further defensive commitment and, inevitably, tiredness.
It was the moment that young Lewis Dodd had been awaiting, and he took it in style, initiallyhanging back and then accelerating through the advancing Salford line to score between the posts and convert his own try with ease, to give the hosts a seemingly comfortable 24-16 lead.
Salford were not going to go down without a fight, however. It had been an extremely even contest throughout, and they were determined to prove that on the scoreboard, and most fittingly produced a final flurry of attacks. First, Krisnan Inu was held up, over the line, and then they forced a goal-line drop-out, followed by a helpful penalty, which led to Joe Digby scoring their final try, converted by Inu, two minutes from time.
Despite finishing slightly behind on the final scoreboard, there were a great many positives for the team and coaching staff to take from the overall performance, with them up to the North East, next weekend, when they take on Newcastle Thunder.
Jamie Abram, Dafydd Jones, Ed Chamberlain, Elliot Kear, Krisnan Inu, Chris Atkin, Alex Smith, Chris Worrall, Connor Jones, Conner MacCallum, Ryan Lannon, Jack Ormondroyd, Henry Davies
Connor Aspey, Tayler Brown, Tom Millington, Joe Digby
Tom Nisbett, Brad Holroyd, Ben Davies, Nico Rizzelli, Jumah Sambou, Owin Abel, Lewis Dodd, Alex Eckley, Paul Cooke, Callum Hazard, Joe Batchelor, Mike Weldon, Sam Royle
Paul Nash, Andy Thornley, Sam Brooks, Kye Siyani
Referee – Mr J McMullen
Touch Judges – S Houghton, R Stansfield