RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: CHALLENGE CUP TIE WIGAN V SALFORD
There must have been many a huge sigh of relief across those clubs still to be drawn from the bag, when Salford Red Devils were announced as the visitors to the DW Stadium, in the sixth-round tie, of this year’s Betfred Challenge Cup. Not for nothing, are Wigan known as The Cup Kings, especially after their decade-long run of winning every final of the late eighties and early nineties.
In fairness, Salford do not have a bad record of recent results in cup ties against the Warriors, including that marvellous victory of 1996, which brought the aforementioned run of victories to its conclusion, with Salford having home advantage in the majority of those games. This one was different, though, with it being the Red Devils having to do the travelling, and the usually tight, or unexpected, result was never on the cards, at least not judging by the final score.
A twenty-point victory sounds quite a comfortable win for the home side, especially when they kept the visitors to nil. That is only part of the story, however, as those who attended will testify, with the Reds having every bit as much of the game as their illustrious hosts. What they did not do, however, was turn any of their opportunities into points.
For a full fifteen opening minutes, the travelling Salford faithful must have been lulled into a feeling of growing confidence, as their favourites went head-to-head in an intriguing arm wrestle, which gave no indication of the disappointments to come shortly after, as they succeeded in containing Wigan between the two twenty metre lines.
Indeed, for the vast majority of the game, the Reds’ defence coped extremely well with the challenge presented by the Warriors. Where it all went wrong was in the number of handling errors and set restarts, which quickly crept in, thereafter, and although not the first, it was one of the first of these, when Tim Lafai tried an adventurous offload to Joe Burgess, which paid dividends to Wigan with their first try under the posts, by Liam Byrne.
To compound matters even further, a set restart on the fourth tackle of the next set gave their hosts sufficient extra possession to score a back-to-back pair, and we all know how demoralising those can be, particularly when both conversion kicks are successful.
Yet the Red Devils did mount a number of promising, but unsuccessful attacks on the home line. The first of these came on twenty-minutes, when a long pass at the end of a flowing move from left to right found Rhys Williams in space, but excellent Wigan covering forced him into touch before he could cross the line.
A similar foray into the Wigan ten metre area, although helped by a rare Salford set-restart, was snuffed out by the Warriors’ defensive pressure, forcing a lost ball on the final tackle. In fact, Salford’s only partially successful attack came on thirty-three minutes, when they forced a goal-line drop-out.
Wigan’s determination to exploit each and every one of the Red Devils’ errors had been laid bare, on twenty-three minutes, when a Wigan set-restart was followed by a kickable penalty, which Hardaker confidently slotted over. It might have been only two points, but it turned their lead into a three-score margin.
A concerted effort to curtail the errors, immediately after the interval, led to some of Salford’s most imaginative and entertaining ball-handling approach work, but Brierley’s fumbled attempt to take a crucial pass led to Leuluai regaining possession and sprinting away, down their right touchline. With Hardaker and Field in support, it looked all the world like another try was on the way, but everyone had reckoned without the pace and determination of Joe Burges who hared back to snuff out the danger before Hardaker could get the final pass to Field.
This totally unselfish contribution to the Salford cause, from Burgess, was typical of the endeavour and commitment of all the Red Devils throughout the match. It just proves rather fruitless, though, if you concede so many errors that they all contribute to your own downfall.