Tensions were running high leading up to kick off at The AJ Bell Stadium. Salford coach Ian Watson named an unchanged 19 man squad. His side just coming up short last Friday away to Wigan in what was a heroic and valiant effort.
Their would be no second chances tonight though and for the losing side it was end of the journey for 2019.
The Salford supporters looked to replicate last weeks unforgettable atmosphere, with Castleford doing their part bringing a large vocal following.
This was uncharted territory for most Salford supporters as you would now need to be of a certain vintage to remember Championship wins and challenges with Rugby League’s elite in the top flight.
Speaking from a personal perspective it had been a strange week of glorious reflection and cautious anticipation as we leaned on the cusp of something that could change our club for ever.
After a frustrating run of home defeats at the start of the season Salford’s home form made good reading. Just one defeat in the last eight home matches combined with their thrilling away form had helped Watson’s side storm to a third place finish.
Their had been plenty of rain over the past few days but the pitch looked as immaculate as ever and is certainly one of the best playing surfaces in the country.
Whatever the result tonight this would be an emotional occasion with a number of Salford players moving on at the end of the season therefore this would be their final appearances at The Red Devil’s home ground.
Salford’s only lineup change saw Greg Burke come in for Ryan Lannon.
Defences were very keen early on and the Tigers came up with an error in their own half. Kris Welham unfortunately spilled the ball from a half chance.
The games first try came in the eleventh minute, Tui Lolohea’s pin point grubber kick was pounced on by Tyrone McCarthy. Try on the field was given by referee Ben Thaler and video referee Robert Hicks agreed.
Three minutes later a very tight finish by the corner flag called Mr Hicks back into action. Try on the field was awarded and after a few minutes checking the replay the try was given, Jake Bibby with a tremendous finish. Krisnan Inu converted both to give the hosts a 12-0 lead.
Salford’s defence continued to nullify Castleford. The resilience and desire shown seemed to frustrate The Tigers. A nice move from the visitors though set Jordan Rankin racing in to the clear. A try seemed inevitable but a thrilling piece of action unfolded. Niall Evalds came up with a try saving tackle but wow what a tackle it was. Evalds not only stopped the try but put Rankin in touch. This came at a crucial time in the match as half time drew closer. Inu added a penalty just before the break 14-0.
Castleford had the majority of possession and field position at the start of the second half but yet again Salford defended set after set. The crowd could sense the effort of the home side and were thrilled at the tenacious tackling on show. The referee may have been sponsored by Ronseal but it was Watson’s men who were water tight.
George Griffin and Gil Dudson came close with attempts to crash over, some how the visitors clung on. With just ten minutes remaining the Salford machine was relentless. The pressure was all to much for The Tigers and a kick out on the full handed Salford the chance to land the knockout punch. That blow was landed by the perfect man, on his final match at The AJ Bell Stadium Jackson Hastings ghosted over to seal win. Inu converted the try and nailed a penalty goal with seconds remaining.
Speaking after the match an excited Ian Watson “I thought it was really important for supporters to be here today. It was an outstanding support tonight, our fans have been great all season. I think the players have got to be excited now. Their is more in the players we’ve got they want to learn and they can get better. The biggest thing for us is collectively they want to work hard for each other.”
Salford are now eighty minutes from Old Trafford and will play away to Wigan or St. Helens next Friday.
Salford 22 Castleford 0.