After what has been an absolutely thrilling year for everyone involved with Salford Red Devils it came down to eighty minutes at Old Trafford to complete the domestic season.
In the week following last Friday’s special night in Wigan, Ian Watson’s side have gained so much publicity in the media. The Salford story has captured the imagination of the sport and their was no doubt whatsoever their place on this huge Grand Final stage was much deserved.
The atmosphere approaching kick off was electric, the Salford supporters packed the East Stand generating an incredible energy. The noise as the teams emerged from the tunnel was simply deafening. Coaches Ian Watson and Justin Holbrook lead their sides out immaculately dressed in suits and ties.
A Salford mistake in the opening set of the match immediately put St. Helens on the front foot as their forward pack looked to smash through. The Red Devils defended superbly to repel this early assault.
The Saints dominated the early attacking possession and territory with Salford defending so bravely. Kris Welham with a ball an all tackle the highlight and this summed up his the spirit of his side.
Lachlan Coote’s half break almost came off but his pass evaded his team mates with the ball landing in touch. Saints were playing at a break neck tempo, quick around the ruck and fast play the balls lead to the opening try of the match. Morgan Knowles backing up well to puncture the Red Devils line. Coote converted 0-6.
Salford winger Ken Sio looked to be tackled in the air but referee Chris Kendall disagreed awarding a scrum in prime striking distance. Zeb Tai snatched a try from the scrum, running at the referee on the blind side. After consultation with the video referee the try was given to extend the lead to 0-12.
With no real possession or opportunities to attack Salford finally got a break through. A wonderful passage of play from Tui Lolohea saw the stand off jink his way to the line to touch down. Joyful scenes amongst the Salford supporters were soon dashed as the try was disallowed for obstruction.
The Red Devils showed fantastic character though to dust themselves off and go again. Their patience and persistence was rewarded moments later when Jake Bibby scored a fine try in the corner. Krisnan Inu nailed the touch line conversion to put Salford right back in the match at 6-12 and it was fully deserved. Saints seemed a little rattled, not many teams have managed to live with them in recent months but they were in a match now!
Watson’s men continued to keep working in the early stages of the second half and another contentious decision passed them by when Jack Ashworth clashed with Inu.
Saints were clinical when they needed to be though and stretched their lead when Mark Percival followed up a teasing grubber kick to touch down. Coote again converted 6-18.
Salford never gave up though and neither did their supporters. They were in a fight going toe to toe with the best side in the competition. Trading blow for blow in a monumental effort.
Inu was again in the wars and looked to cop a shoulder charge off kevin Naiqama. Referee Kendall didn’t agree.
A high tackle from Gil Dudson gave Saints the chance to open up a significant lead from a penalty. Coote converted to leave Salford a big task in the closing stages of the contest.
Joey Lussick booted a huge Forty twenty kick but a sloppy play the ball close to the line let Saints off the hook.
Coote notched another penalty goal nine minutes from time before his side started to take chances with some swashbuckling attacks. Salford were magnificent in defence though, Niall Evalds took every high ball, tackled his heart out and showed the watching world what a wonderful fullback he is.
Jackson Hastings and Lolohea battled bravely all night as did every Salford player.
Tommy Mackinson completed the scoring with a drop goal but the Red Devils continued to attack until the final hooter.
Saints were crowned champions of 2019 after a tremendous season with just three defeats in the Super League campaign.
Seventeen heroes left the pitch with heads held high for Salford Red Devils. The spirit and desire this season has been truly remarkable.
They did their supporters and the City proud as they pushed themselves to the limit in what was a outstanding contest.
Speaking after the match Ian Watson was a true gentleman, “ I thought it was a high quality game, Saints were really smart the way they played.
We’ve built ourselves all season on working hard for your team mates and a resilience to defend your goal line, I though our guys were outstanding.
I am really excited for next year and the players we’ve got hopefully we can get a few more in but that will be dictated by the clubs finances.”
2019 is a year the Salford supporters will cherish for ever. Players maybe moving on but with this ethos and work ethic the club is now being built on this is only the start of things to come!
Salford 6 St. Helens 23.