After a glorious day weather wise the two form sides in the Super League went head to head at the DW Stadium. After finishing second and third in the League Table respectively this match looked too close to call. Salford’s record away at Wigan doesn’t make particularly good reading but this was new territory in the playoffs.
Gil Dudson returned to the Salford starting line up after missing his first game of the season last week. The Welshman was looking for an inspired performance against his former club Wigan.
The Red Devils were welcomed to the field by a huge travelling army of supporters in the North stand. The noise generated added to the electric atmosphere.
Salford made their intentions known early on, a very positive first set of six keeping the ball alive and stretching the Wigan defence. A drop out was forced and moments later Jake Bibby came close to opening the scoring but just couldn’t ground the ball.
Wigan fullback Zak Hardacker missed a relatively straight forward conversion from what was a soft penalty awarded by referee Robert Hicks.
Both sides traded sets with defensive work keeping the match scoreless.
The first points of the game came on the back of some good fortune for the Warriors. Krisnan Inu looked to have had the ball stollen in the tackle but the knock on was awarded allowing the home side a perfect attacking opportunity.
Slick centre play from Oliver Gildart allowed the Wigan centre to stand Kris Welham up and touch down for a try. Hardacker this time booted over the much trickier conversion, 6-0.
The Warriors came close to extending their lead but were denied a try for what looked a blatant obstruction.
Ken Sio came close to scoring as Salford grew in confidence and began asking questions of their hosts defence. Tui Lolohea’s huge spiralling kick caused sheer panic and the knock on followed. Salford went hunting the try and managed to force a repeat set of six. Joey Lussick showed tremendous strength to burrow over the line. Referee Hicks called upon the video referee after awarding no try on the field. After a good few minutes viewing many different angles Lussick looked to have grounded the ball quite legitimately. No try was the decision.
This didn’t stop Salford however and a few plays later Lussick fed George Griffin with a lovely short ball to send the all action second rower crashing over. Inu booted the conversion to level the scores at 6-6.
This match was being played at quite an intensity, it was playoff rugby league at its best. Two sides going hammer and tongs with each other. The Red Devil’s left the pitch at half time to a standing ovation from their supporters after a fantastic first half.
Salford started the second half on the front foot. A wonderful flowing move was halted by a desperate piece of defence yet again as the Warriors conceded a scrum after tipping a Salford pass in to touch. More slick ball movement moments later saw Niall Evalds put Ken Sio over for an acrobatic finish on the touch line. The video referee was called upon again and this time a try on the field was given. Agonisingly though Sio had just been caught by his knee over the touchline, no try.
Wigan took the lead in the 53rd minute after a crazy offload from Inu inches from his own try line went to ground. Wigan scrum half Thomas Leuluai couldn’t believe his luck as he pouched an easy try. 12-6.
Attacking down their left edge Wigan then came up with a real slice of good fortune. A wayward pass bounced kindly and George Williams showed tremendous pace to race away to score. Hardacker converted to leave Salford a real uphill task at 18-6.
Jackson Hastings hit back with a superb piece of individual brilliance. Dancing round the Wigan defence to stretch out and score. The North stand erupted. Hastings looked to be fouled in the act of scoring by Tony Clubb. A cheap shot on the Australian was really uncalled for, Salford unlucky not to be awarded a chance at an eight point try. Inu converted the try, 18-12 with 19 minutes remaining.
Six points in front going into the last 10 minutes Wigan didn’t really look to extend their lead. Looking to shut up shop the home side handed the gauntlet to their gallant visitors.
Lolohea forced a drop out as Wigan clung on with some heroic and desperate defence. Lee Mossop and Gil Dudson were magnificent all night charging the ball in relentlessly like to fearless gladiators. Mossop came close but was just held up short. The tension was unbearable as centre Kris Welham forced a drop out with a clever kick. Yet again Salford tried every trick in the book but to their credit Wigan showed why they are the Champions with an unbelievable resilience to hold on as the final hooter sounded.
Red Devils coach Ian Watson was disappointed with the result but very proud of the performance from his side. “To work hard and defend off the ball has really been shown again today, they should be really proud of their efforts. Just a little bit of smartness let us down. In the playoffs you win games by small margins like what Wigan have done. They’ve won on the back of our errors”.
Looking forward to the Castleford match next Thursday Watson said, “ we can’t let that game define us, we’ve got to learn are lessons and go in to the Castleford game 100% confident”.
Salford will now be at home to Castleford next Thursday night with the losing being eliminated. Wigan will travel to St. Helens next Friday with the wining side from that clash progressing through to the Grand Final.
The Red Devils fell just short in this one but they live to fight another day. The 2019 story is not over just yet.
Wigan 18 Salford 12