Salford rounded off their 2021 adventure with a home match against reigning champions St.Helens. Red Devils coach Richard Marshall admitted in the week that his side were pretty busted and may have struggled with a playoff campaign. This match may have been the end of the road for Salford but Saints had their eyes on another Grand Final appearance and their third successive Super League crown.
This match would be the last game for a few members of the Salford squad with players leaving and retiring. It promised to be an emotional night at the AJ Bell Stadium. It was great to see so many young supporters in attendance with the Red Devils working hard in the community with lots of schools getting behind the club and making a terrific noise prior to kick off.
The pitch looked in immaculate condition as always and the sun began to drop down leaving a real picture postcard backdrop as the players marched out.
After a monumental effort from his side last Saturday at Warrington, Marshall shuffles his team round after losing players to injury.
Matty Costello came in at centre for Joe Burgess, Sebastine Ikahihifo returned after a lengthy layoff with injury and young hooker Connor Aspey made the bench. Saints handed debuts to a trio of young stars. Shay Martyn is the son of former Saints half back Tommy and he lined up on the wing. Jon Bennison started at fullback and Sam Royle in the second row. The Saints production line of talent keeps on producing. Two players who have spent time on loan at Salford this season are Dan Norman and Ben Davies. They both featured in the Saints team as well.
The visitors made the perfect start with a break away try down their left edge. Bennison finished off a fine move with some terrific support play.
Salford hit back with a try from Ken Sio. Super League’s leading try scorer raced on to a neat kick through from Tui Lolohea to touchdown.
Saints continued to move the ball with a real zip and urgency. Their second try came from another kick through and Johnny Lomax won the race to score. Martyn converted to give the visitors a 4-12 cushion.
Andy Ackers got a super pass out to Lolohea and a try looked certain as Morgan Escare scampered to the line but the Frenchman was denied by some excellent cover defence.
Salford created plenty of half chances but the execution wasn’t quite the precision standard required in the first half.
Martyn booted a penalty just before half time before Salford chanced their arm and it brought them a try. Matty Costello grabbed it and Atkin converted off the touch line as the hooter sounded.
Salford made a storming start to the second half. Atkin scored after a blistering break from Andy Ackers then it was back to back tries when the hard working Ellis Robson raced over to put Salford in front 20-14.
Another try soon followed, this time it was Sio who finished off another frantic passage of play. Inu converted to give Salford a deserved twelve point advantage.
It was a big transformation in the second half as Salford kept St.Helens scoreless with a tough and ruthless forty minutes.
Their certainly promising signs in this Salford side as the supporters look forward to the new season in 2022.
Salford 26 St.Helens 14.
Photos by Steve McCormick.