Challenge Cup Semi finals have been quite a rare event for Salford and their supporters over the last fifty years. In 1969 today’s opponents Warrington stood in the way of the Red Devils in their quest for Wembley. Salford won that day 15-8. Since then four Semi Finals have all ended in defeat. 1988 against a very strong Wigan side who were years ahead of most other clubs. 1997 a brave defeat against St. Helens and the following year heart break at Headingley with Sheffield Eagles shattering the dream. Three years ago Wigan beat Salford in a hard fought game in which Ian Watson’s side led at half time.
The weather 32 years ago against Wigan was pretty similar to today. Grey and raining all day. Bolton’s Burnden Park pitch turned into quite a bog.
Ironically both Salford and Warrington like to play dry weather Rugby League so the question was who would handle the conditions and occasion the better.
Despite the St. Helens pitch hosting two matches in quick succession the pitch seemed to be holding up well at kick off. After the previous match between Wigan and Leeds a team of ground staff got to work frantically in preparation for game two.
As expected both sides made a whole host of changes after Tuesday nights league match.
In the car on the way to the match a song came on the radio that always reminds me of Salford RLFC, Chasing Rainbows by Shed Seven. One things for certain no matter what the result today Salford and their loyal supporters would continue to chase rainbows for many years to come.
The first slice of action saw old stagers Kevin Brown and Chris Hill exchange a push and a shove.
Warrington seemed to settle the quicker of the two sides and began to crank the pressure up.
The torrential rain seemed to be getting worse but defences were on top and this was highlighted when a super Kris Welham tackle forced Anthony Gelling in to touch.
In the twelfth minute Tyrone McCarthy was sin binned for a cannon ball tackle.
Warrington made the extra man advantage count as they capitalised with a try.
Toby King scored it and Stefan Ratchford added the conversion.
Midway through the first half and the Wolves started to dictate the match with Salford firmly on the back foot.
Ratchford edged Warrington further in front with a penalty goal but Salford’s response was imminent. Tui Lolohea kicked through, Matty Ashton missed the ball allowing Kallum Watkins to touch down superbly in such poor conditions. Krisnan Inu converted to put Salford right back in the match.
The Red Devils were now growing in confidence. Both sides continued to impress playing the dry weather way in the wet.
A booming, swirling kick from the excellent Blake Austin caught Dan Sarginson off guard as he spilled the ball. Warrington went on the attack and it was Austin who dropped his shoulder and coasted over for a really nice try. Gareth Widdop this time converted to put Warrington 8-14 up.
The half time hooter was just moments away and Salford could have been forgiven for going in to their shell. They did the opposite. Inu chanced his arm with a short kick off and Salford regathered possession. With a penalty awarded bang in front of the posts Inu cautiously took the two points on offer to end a pulsating first half.
Salford grabbed the first points of the second half, Kevin Brown’s pin point kicked was taken by Inu who touched down with all the style and panache with have come to expect of him. He couldn’t convert leaving the score at 12-14 in Warrington’s favour.
The Wolves again showed Salford huge respect by taking two points from a penalty in what looked a very threatening position.
The pressure started to build and Warrington looked to land a significant blow. Salford were like a proud boxer on the ropes, they wouldn’t give in and kept battling for every scrap in what was becoming a fantastic cup tie. A Sarginson knock on close to the line gave the Wolves a big chance and they took it. Ben Murdoch Masila crashed over and Widdop’s goal gave Warrington a ten point lead 12-22.
This Salford side don’t know how to throw the towel in and when another sublime Brown kick caused pandemonium in the Wolves defence the unlikely try scorer was pack grafter James Greenwood. Inu converted to reduce the deficit 18-22.
The tension was unbearable! Warrington panicked kicking out on the full. Could this be the chance Salford had waited 51 years for?
The Red Devils came roaring forward. Joey Lussick sniffed a chance from dummy half and went for it. Salford RLFC held their breath! The video referee seemed to take an age as time temporarily stood still. Try was awarded the scores were level 22-22. Inu lined up the conversion from bang in front and made no mistake as Salford took the lead for the first time in the game.
The clock ticked down and the hooter sounded. The players and staff of our great club delighted with their achievement. Salford might not have the biggest playing roster, biggest budget, biggest crowds but what this club does have is a massive heart, a hunger and desire, a coach that can perform miracles. Ian Watson is becoming Salford’s equivalent of Brian Clough.
A magical night, bitter sweet with no supporters but as I said we will all continue chasing rainbows.
Salford will meet Leeds in the Challenge Cup Final.
Salford 24 Warrington 22.