Salford 18  Leeds 22              Match Report – David Clegg

darrell_griffinMost supporters will maintain, with a significant degree of conviction, that they are satisfied provided their team puts up a good fight, regardless of whether they win.  In that case, there must have been some well satisfied Salford supporters on Friday evening, when the Devils entertained Leeds Rhinos, for without any shadow of a doubt they were competitive right up to the final whistle.

Indeed, with a slightly larger slice of good fortune, they might well have taken the result in the final stages, such was the assault they threw at the Leeds line, and the not inconsiderable relief on the faces of a number of the visitors, Head Coach, Brian McDermott, in particular, showed the extent of the pressure Salford had applied, in those closing minutes.

If there were to be a criticism of the Red Devils’ performance it would surely be the laxed way they started the second half, when Leeds got on a roll with some very quick play-the-balls, and the home defence appeared to be caught totally unaware of how to deal with the increased tempo of the opposition.  Certainly, the seemingly static defensive line simply allowed Leeds to make easy metres up the field, and then to build pressure on the Devils’ line.

adrian_morleyAnother aspect that I am sure will be addressed, before the next game, will be the response from the players upon conceding a score.  On Friday, having had their line breached on the first and third occasions, they promptly conceded a second back to back converted try, not so much in panic but more in what would seem to be dismay, meaning that each of those initial scores, in effect added twelve points to the Rhinos’ tally.  This simply gave Leeds a cushioning they should not have had, and left the Red Devils with more of an uphill battle than they needed.

Yet this was all in stark contrast to the remainder of the game in which the Salford players, to a man, fought, worked, and tested the Rhinos, neither giving nor asking any quarter, and for almost the whole of the match were the equal of, and at times had the better of their Yorkshire counterparts, gaining a wonderful response from the increased number of home fans, who roared on their favourites with that old familiar cry of “Salford, Salford”.

junior_sauFrom the very first defensive set, which ended with Hall’s being unceremoniously bundled into touch by Johnson and Sa’u, and then underlined a couple of minutes later Morley’s (above left) driving surge forward, the Leeds players must have known that they were going to be in for a battle, and it was only just reward for their efforts, on 12 mins, that Junior Sa’u (right) put Salford six points ahead when he won the touchdown to Kevin Locke’s kick-in-goal, following man of the match, Darrell Griffin’s (top of page) surge forward to the posts.

Three minutes later, Fages was put through a gap close to Leeds’s line, only for Salford to be penalised for an obstruction.  Such is the intensity of the game at this level, that an error such as this can turn things around, and the Rhinos started to apply pressure of their own, leading on 20 mins to their drawing level, as a result of Hardaker’s refusing to give up on an in-goal kick, which looked for all the world as if it were going to roll dead.  It didn’t, and the Salford lead had been expunged.

theo_fagesAlmost directly from the restart, Leeds broke on their right flank, and although Chase managed to interfere with the inside pass, he was unable to gather it, and the ball slipped from him on to Watkins, who put the visitors ahead with a second converted try 6-12.

Credit to the Red Devils they then rallied well, and were most unfortunate to have a second effort from Fages disallowed for a forward pass from Rapira, following a strong break from him, on 31 mins.

The intensity of the home pressure in this period really seemed to get to the Rhinos, and a most untypical, ineffective, set of six saw them struggle to make any headway at all, and they turned the ball over still in their own thirty metre area.  Two minutes from time, Theo Fages (left) made it third time lucky, when he grounded Rangi Chase’s kick under the posts to give Josh Griffin a simple kick to tie the scores, 12-12, at half time.

A soft start to the second half deteriorated further, on 46 mins, when Evalds failed to take a towering Leeds kick, and Ablett completed their resultant set by spinning in the tackle to ground the ball on the line, and recapture the lead for the Rhinos.  12-18

niall.evaldsSalford really were having difficulty adapting to the increased pace of the visitors’ attack, and their line suddenly appeared ragged and ineffective.  As a result, although there appeared to be a forward pass in the preceding passage of play, Leeds extended their lead on 52 mins, when Ward found plenty of room to coast through on the left.  Surprisingly, Hardaker, who had unerringly slotted over all three earlier kicks, failed to find the mark with this conversion attempt, leaving the score at 12-22.

Occasionally, it takes one piece of play from an individual player to inspire the rest of the team, and on 55 mins, Evalds (right) became that player, when he made amends for his earlier lapse by taking Leeds’s next high kick and then breaking through the advancing Leeds defenders, to turn defence into attack with a 40m burst.  From the next play-the ball, Fages made further inroads into the Rhinos territory, and when the visitors obliged by touching the ball and resetting the tackle count, Jordan Walne (below) broke through at a great angle to brush off Hardaker’s attempt at stopping him, to score under the posts.  Griffin added the extras, and the Red Devils were back within four points of the Rhinos.

jordan_walneWalne celebrated his try, almost immediately, with another tremendous break through the visitors’ ranks, and only a lack of support prevented a further score.  By now Leeds were beginning to look a spent attacking force, and with time on their side, it seemed inconceivable that the Devils would not turn their superiority into futher points.  The Rhinos certainly thought so, for when two successive penalties went their way, they opted for, but failed with, a kick at goal.

From then on it was a combination of pressure and near misses from the Red Devils, most notably when Junior Sa’u was denied at the right corner, and finally when Josh Griffin was penalised for tackling Briscoe in mid-air.  A little patience would have brought about the desired result of a goal-line drop-out, which may well have led to a successful outcome.

As it was, the game finished with Salford still on the attack, throwing the ball about more in hope than expectation once the hooter had sounded, and although defeated, they certainly had not been disgraced, having hopefully made many friends from their heroics against the best defence in the league, and a team which will undoubtedly be in the mix, at the end of the season.