SALFORD 18 WAKEFIELD 14 Match Report – David Clegg
With a record Salford attendance, since coming to the A J Bell Stadium, of seven thousand to spur them on, the newly formed Red Devils took centre stage, yesterday, to edge a thrilling contest for their first win under their rebranded banner. Indeed, even with the vast majority already inside, there were, nevertheless, many still making their way to the ground, so much so that the kick off had to be delayed for ten minutes to enable these to take up their places.
Certainly the effect of all this on the team was to spur them into action from the outset, and they took a firm grip on the game for virtually the whole of the first half. That opening forty minutes must surely have been enough to whet the appetite of everyone present as the class and quality of the players, whom Head Coach, Brian Noble, and Chairman, Dr Marwan Koukash, had assembled, shone through to make one believe that almost anything is possible from here on.
Whether it was the cleverly judged kicking game which invariably turned around the Wakefield defence, the power of the forward forays, the slick handling of the pivots, or the tricky kick returning runs, there was much to savour. The aspect of play, which I am sure impressed everyone especially, was, however, the sheer intensity of the tackling, which was absolutely brutal, and which pressured Wakefield into so many handling errors that they were kept desperately defending their line throughout. That the crowd loved it was clearly apparent from the roars which greeted so many of the big hits.
Although the Devils’ second half performance did not live up to that of the first, there are a number of reasons which lie behind that. Firstly, the squad were clearly, and understandably, hyped up for the occasion which may have led to their expending rather more energy than might otherwise have been the case. Secondly the squad are still relatively new to one another, so systems and structures are still being worked upon and are not yet wholly integrated into the minds of the players that they can reproduce and adapt them with the consummate ease that is the hallmark of Super League.
Consequently, the absence of highly experienced Martin Gleeson together with the early loss of Rangi Chase, and later Junior Sa’u, all combined to put much greater strain on those still immature processes than they could cope with. In addition, hooker Tommy Lee’s move to half back meant that both he and his deputy, Stuart Howarth, had to play for the remainder of the game without respite. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had regrouped magnificently over the half time break, and quickly took the game to Salford, building up momentum via much improved ball control and increased line speed on defence.
The result was almost a reversal of fortunes from the first half; almost, but not quite. Whereas Salford, earlier, had crossed for three clear cut, well taken converted tries, the Wildcats were reliant upon an opportunistic interception from scrum half, Godinet , off Howarth’s pass for one of theirs, whilst the other two were scored too far out to be converted, and those extra four points were to prove to be the difference, at the final whistle.
It was as early as the fourth minute that as a result of recovering a Wakefield dropped pass, Salford were able to build pressure on the visitors’ line, and from Chase’s end of set kick into the in-goal area, Sa’u raced to prevent the ball from going dead and provided Gareth Hock with the touchdown. Jake Malloney was successful with the straight forward conversion.
So dominant were the Devils at this stage that it was not until the 14th minute that the Wildcats were able to get a foothold in the Salford half and mount an attack. A few minutes earlier though the Red Devils could themselves have gone further ahead had a long pass out to the wing been taken at speed by Johnson. Unfortunately he had to turn round to take it and so the chance was lost. Just before the half hour, however, following five successive sets of six on the Wakefield line, man of the match Tim Smith set up Harrison Hansen for his try to the right of the posts, goaled by Mullaney.
There was no respite now for the beleaguered Wildcats and four minutes later Smith, in the process of being upended by the Wakefield tacklers, got out a remarkable offload to the supporting Andrew Dixon, who scored under the posts to give the Devils an eighteen point half time lead. That the visitors were scoreless was down to the quality of the home defence, exemplified four minutes from half time by Walton and Johnson’s thwarting of a try despite being faced with an overlap.
The second half turn around, however, came on 44 mins when a Salford dropped pass was compounded by the conceding of a penalty from which Matt Ryan cut through at a great angle to open the visitors account.
The most telling factor of the half though was the interception try, which was not only the sole Wildcats’ try Sykes was able to convert, but more significantly raised the visitors’ confidence considerably, and they continued to pound the Salford line. In fact the Devils did very well to prevent Lauitiiti from grounding the ball for a further Wakefield try on 53 minutes. Lauitiiti had the opportunity to make amends seven minutes later, when Jake Mullaney failed for the first time to secure possession from a high bomb, and the Wakefield second rower crossed in the corner to set up a thrilling finale. There are many teams which might have capitulated with a quarter of the game still remaining, but the quality within the new Red Devils is such that the pressure merely brought their character to the fore, and they hung on with increasing ease.