RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: SALFORD V CASTLEFORD
Three months on, from the opening game of the season, in which Salford surprised many by coming away with a convincing 16-26 win, at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle, the Castleford Tigers arrived at the A J Bell, seeking to reverse the outcome of that initial encounter. The strides which the Tigers had made in the intervening period, had moved them into the top six of Super League.
Salford, in comparison, had left it somewhat later, until the last three fixtures, in fact, before making inroads into their rather unflattering league status at that time, but those three markedly improved performances had been more eye-catching, coming against the three biggest names in rugby league, Wigan, St Helens, and Leeds, the last of which brought them their first win in their last seven matches.
The 30-16 result of last Friday’s return fixture with Cas was of very little difference from that of Round 1, showing that the Red Devils appear to have maintained their lead in the standard of their performances from the first to this latest encounter.
Not that that was evident, on field, during the opening period of either half, with the visitors being the first to settle and open their account, in both. The first half saw them going four points ahead, after a mere three minutes, while post interval, it took them only five minutes longer than that to register a try.
As any good coach will espouse, however, it does not matter how you start, it is how you finish that matters most, and that certainly proved to be the case, on Friday, as the Reds gradually took control of the game in the first forty, while then turning the second half into a quite enthralling, and most entertaining, contest
The visitors’ opening four pointer was eventually answered by the Red Devils in the seventeenth minute. Taking advantage of a penalty which put them on the attack, Marc Sneyd kicked into the in-goal area on the fourth tackle, and Tim Lafae was the first to get there to ground the ball, which with Sneyd’s conversion put Salford into a lead they never surrendered, thereafter.
The rain, which had fallen steadily for four hours prior to kick-off, had made both the ball and the playing surface most slippery, so conditions were challenging for both sides, both of which were pleased to turn their opponents’ errors to their own advantage.
Playing the game in your opponents’ half was highly desirable and advantageous, something at which Salford proved to be rather the better, during the run up to the interval. The pressure this put the Tigers under began to take its toll on them, and they began to look quite tired, in that last ten minutes.
Although rugby is predominantly a team game, there are occasions when the individual contribution of one player can have a quite profound effect on the game, and their team. Joe Burgess was the individual, on this occasion who, as the first half moved closer to its end, completely stamped his authority on the match.
Not only did he latch onto the end of a right to left passing move, on thirty minutes, then wrong footing the defenders for Salford’s second try, six minutes later amid a posse of attacking Tigers, he climbed high to take the ball above his head from and end-of-set kick, and then, outnumbered by four to one he resisted their combined efforts to force him into touch, thereby both acquiring, and retaining possession for his side.
As if to celebrate all of this, he closed the half with the second try of his eventual hat-trick, by exploiting space on his flank to round the opposition with his pace coupled with a swerve, which kept him completely in the clear, on his way to the line.
It took a full fifteen minutes of an arm-wrestle, at the onset of the second half, during which Castleford appeared to be gaining the ascendency and had narrowed the Reds’ lead to six points, before Sneyd turned the game in Salford’s favour. Against Leeds it had been a drop-goal which had been so decisive; this time it was a 20-40, the repeat set from which he was to slot over a penalty goal, to restore a two-scores advantage.
That two-scores very quickly became three, after a tremendous break by Andy Ackers was continued by Morgan Escare, and although he was tackled in flight, his quick play-the-ball led to excellent passing along the line via Ackers again, Brodie Croft, and Kallum Watkins, to Deon Croft, who grounded for another Sneyd-converted try.
If the balance of the game had changed with surprising speed, it was about to change again, even more quickly, as the visitors caught their hosts out with a most unusual restart. The kick went with some force along the ground before bouncing up over the Salford players’ heads , into touch. Just as the Red Devils had used their unexpected possession from the 20-40 to good effect, so too, now did Castleford, by putting Quareqare in at the corner for his second try of the half.
Salford’s ten-point lead was still sufficient cushioning, however, to keep them comfortable enough to continue playing their fine expansive rugby, and they extended it further with Burgess completing his hat-trick from Lafae’s wonderful final pass.
It is really looking now as though Salford have turned the corner, and rediscovered their early season form, which had, it appeared, deserted them over the intervening month and a half. Now a free weekend gives them some well-earned respite before an important away trip to take on Hull KR.