In Rugby League matches don’t come much bigger than this. Just over three years ago Salford were fighting for their Super League lives in the Million Pound game. Since then coach Ian Watson has rebuilt the side on numerous occasions with limited resources and playing budgets. His side were now just eighty minutes from a Grand Final in what has been an unbelievable season and one the Salford supporters will remember forever.
The two sides met in this fixture a fortnight ago in a pulsating encounter. A few costly errors were Salford’s downfall that night and they came into this game more determined than ever after last Thursdays terrific victory over Castleford.
The away stand was jam packed at kick off as Salford’s travelling army of supporters roared their team out on to the pitch. The atmosphere was both spine tingling and emotional.
The Red Devils tore into a shell shocked Wigan side, Krisnan Inu kicked two penalty goals as the Warriors failed to adjust to the games frantic tempo.
Salford then landed a significant blow when Gil Dudson finished off a lovely move to dive under the posts for the games first try. Inu converted 0-10.
After keeping the Tigers pointless last week Salford were again ferocious in defence. Tui Lolohea and Jackson Hastings dictated Salford’s attacks but the young half back pairing were outstanding in defence working tirelessly.
The Warriors became frustrated and looked rattled with nothing going their way.
Jake Bibby came close twice in quick succession to scoring but some how the Warriors clung on. Wigan chanced their arm just before the break as they chased the edge. Referee Ben Thaler called obstruction and Inu didn’t hesitate, again slotting over the penalty to send Salford in to a standing ovation at half time, 0-12.
Salford looked more and more comfortable as the match progressed. Watson’s men seemed to have learned so much from the match two weeks ago. They played with a ruthless maturity, managing the game perfectly not giving Wigan a sniff.
Four minutes into the second half Salford increased the lead. Joey Lussick with a dart from dummy half squeezing in under the posts. The noise was deafening as the video referee confirmed the try, Inu nailed the conversion 0-18.
Wigan began to ask questions of Salford but they were running out of time and had to start forcing the pass. The Red Devils put their heart and soul into every tackle. Their enthusiasm and endeavour seemed to break Wigan mentally who had no answer.
With twenty five minutes remaining Inu converted another penalty goal, this time a high tackle cost Wigan another two points, 0-20. Salford’s props were proving to much for the home side to handle. Dudson went close after another barn storming run but the Welshman flicked out a delightful offload to Lee Mossop who crashed over under the posts. Inu made it seven from seven with the conversion and that soon became eight from eight when the hapless Warriors kicked out on the full.
A speculative kick through eight minutes from time provided a try for Wigan’s
Bevan French, Zak Hardacker failed to convert from close range to compound the frustration.
This night was all about Ian Watson’s heroes. The Salford coach continues to defy the odds week after week and next Saturday will lead his side out at Old Trafford in the Grand final. Salford didn’t just beat Wigan they absolutely dismantled them in their own backyard. With just three away victories in this fixture in forty years times look to be changing. Salford are no longer that mediocre side that continually end up being scoffed at by the Rugby League world. The club is now playing on the big stage and thoroughly deserves every success. It’s a remarkable story that will carry on a little bit longer.
Watson remained calm speaking after the match. You can see the drive, ambition and determination in his eyes. He will spend the weekend studying tonight’s match and video footage of next weekend’s opponents St. Helens.
Watson, his staff and playing squad are a match made in heaven. A true underdog story but this is no fluke, Salford have played their hearts out to be where they are with skill, attitude, belief, desire and a togetherness I’ve never seen in my time following the club. Watson knows their is still a job to be completed and said after the match, “Everything stays exactly the same now, the players just need to know their role. We will just go about business as usual, we don’t need to over egg this one we just need to be level headed and attack it like we have done tonight.”
Wigan 4 Salford 28.