Just six weeks after the Leeds Rhinos had been beaten 26-12, at the A J Bell Stadium, in Round 6, they returned for a repeat encounter, yesterday, when they, once more, had to return back over the Pennines, having lost again, and by a score remarkably similar to that first fixture.
Things had moved on apace between the two matches, though, with the visitors playing this, their first match under the supervision of brand-new coach, Rohan Smith, and the significance of any team performing under the eagle eye of a new man at the top, cannot be overstated. All too often, this additional pressure suffices to bring out in them a sudden return to form, with an unexpected victory to welcome their new coach’s tenure at the club.
Salford, on the other hand, following a somewhat disappointing Easter weekend, at Warrington and then at home to Catalans, had suddenly produced a vein of form we had not seen in previous rounds, in the closest of contests at Wigan, and then St Helens. Indeed, the match at St Helens could have gone either way, and many left the Totally Wicked Stadium convinced that the better team had lost.
The return of a number of players, who had missed those two outings, served to bolster them for this contest, as did the inclusion, on the bench, of new signing, Tyler Dupree, who had only completed his move to join the Reds at the start of the week, but, nevertheless, played his part in producing our fourth win of the season.
The first half produced a most intriguing contest between what, in the early stages of the game, appeared to be two evenly matched sides, and judged solely upon the very few stoppages throughout the forty, provided spectators on both sides with full value for money.
When the stalemate was eventually broken, it was Salford who took the match to another level with two extremely well-supported tries. In fact, three of their four such scores were built on support work of the highest order, and were a sheer joy to watch, with Deon Cross, once again showing what a class act he is at centre, feeding Ken Sio for the opening try, in almost identical fashion to the one which had turned the previous Leeds encounter in Salford’s favour.
Sio was unfortunate not to increase his tally on a couple of other occasions, the clearest of which chances, unusually, saw him unable to fully control the ball as he received it. Only two minutes after taking the lead, the Red Devils showed that they are every bit as lethal on either flank, when good work from Jack Ormoroyd put Tim Lafae in the clear, and his pass gave Joe Burgess a clear run to the line.
It was sheer intensive pressure which produced their third score, with Leeds’s defence thrown into turmoil by Brodie Croft’s kick to the try line being fumbled, and Andy Ackers benefiting from being in the right place at the right time to ground between the posts.
So intense had the opening forty minutes proven to be that by the middle of the second period, both sides began to look quite tired, yet were still prepared to give whatever they could to the game. The second half was therefore a rather less spectacular affair, with a stalemate developing between the pair with errors through fatigue increasing, though, with a twelve-point lead, it was Salford in whose favour time marched on.
The acquisition of a single point, from a Marc Sneyd drop goal, was undoubtedly the most crucial event of the half, for, if the Rhinos were finding it troublesome eating into a two-score lead, they were certainly going to have problems scoring, on three occasions. Almost as if to celebrate that fact, the Reds took the game beyond the visitors, when man of the match Croft made a clean break to set up the supporting Ryan Brierley for the final try.
Exciting, and rewarding, as their attack was, it was their absolutely magnificent defence, during the arm-wrestles which developed in both halves, that kept them in control throughout. Two, incredible one-on-one tackles, midway through the first half, by Kallum Watkins and then Cross, close to their own line, must have been sheer inspiration to the rest of the side, particularly when the going got really tough, in the later stages.
That they kept Leeds to only a pair of tries, one in each half and with these having relatively little impact on the game. was testament to their commitment, throughout. Leeds might not have been at their best, but the same was also said about both Wigan and St Helens.
The common factor in all of these fixtures has been the Red Devils’ resilience in repelling and thwarting all three sides over the full eighty minutes, and while they continue to do this, they will win far more matches than they lose.