When these two sides met earlier in the season at the AJ Bell Stadium Warrington embarrassed Salford with a 18-62 thumping.
Kevin Brown was given a guard of honour prior to the match by both sides after service to both clubs. Kevin is to retire at the end of the season after a long career.
The bookmakers had the Wolves as firm favourites once again for this match but Richard Marshall’s Red Devils had other ideas.
Andy Ackers returned at hooker with Chris Atkin and Tui Lolohea partnering at halfback. Joe Burgess took Krisnan Inu’s place at centre with Rhys Williams slotting in on the wing. Inu settled for a bench spot. Also making a very welcome return as a substitute was pack enforcer Elijah Taylor.
It was far from the start Salford wanted though and early mistakes put the Red Devils on the back foot. Defence was good from the visitors and they eventually grew into the match scoring the first try when Lolohea set up Ken Sio. Morgan Escare booted a pin point conversion off the touch line, 0-6.
Warrington had three big playmakers in their starting line up with George Williams, Gareth Widdop and Blake Austin. Salford rarely seemed troubled and dealt with everything that was thrown their way.
A big slice of fortune got the Wolves on level terms when Escare spilled a kick from Widdop with Matty Ashton taking the gift try on offer.
The Wolves took the lead when young hooker Matt Davies squeezed over from close range.
It was starting to get frustrating for Salford and their hard work wasn’t being rewarded. Sam Luckley was penalised for a high tackle that looked very much a legitimate challenge. The Wolves moved the ball and winger Josh Charnley raced in at the corner to increase the hosts lead to ten points at 16-6
Salford refused to throw the towel in and kept working away. When Ashton coughed the ball up just before half time Sio didn’t need asking twice and he hot footed his way to the line showing tremendous pace. The hooter sounded as Escare kicked the conversion to reduce the deficit to 16-12 at the break.
Warrington battered the Salford line at the start of the second half with countless sets of six and it was six to go galore with the pressure mounting by the minute. Salford’s resilience was commendable as they battled for each other to keep the Wolves at bay.
On the hour mark Sam Luckley produced a Harry Houdini offload and Salford broke down field. Chris Atkin turned the Wolves inside out with a thrilling run before passing to the supporting Lolohea who bagged the try to level the scores again. This time Inu converted and Salford deservedly led 16-18.
Salford looked comfortable in defence and on course for a famous win until six minutes from time when Danny Addy gave away a needless penalty which also saw him sin binned. Widdop took the two points on offer, 18-18.
The final five minutes were simply breathtaking. Inu’s drop goal attempt three minutes from time was close but sailed wide. On the very next play George Williams nailed his one pointer attempt much to the delight of the home supporters.
Salford still weren’t done and a swashbuckling set of six set Lolohea up and he made no mistake with his drop goal 19-19.
As the clock counted down Williams struck another drop goal which sailed over but the game wasn’t over as referee Scott Mikalauskas waved it off after an obstruction in back play. The hooter sounded and it would be extra time to settle a fantastic match.
Inu kicked off extra time and his kick found space and perfectly bounced over Blake Austin’s head into touch. The Salford supporters behind the sticks roared with anticipation they knew this would be the golden ticket to win the match. The re start just ten metres out gave Salford the opportunity to drop the match winning goal. The lines were fluffed and Salford panicked. Eventually Inu had a shot but it drifted wide. The Wolves now had a chance of their own and once again Williams sat in the attacking pocket waiting for the opportunity. It came and he nailed it to shatter Salford 20-19.
A fantastic match of very fine margins. Salford didn’t deserve to lose this one but Warrington just managed to keep their composure. It was a tough one to take for the players and the travelling supporters. Rugby League can be a cruel game sometimes but on the other hand it can be absolutely pulsating when played at this intensity.
Warrington 20 Salford 19.
Photos courtesy of Steve McCormick.