Two teams in poor form and low on confidence! Something had to give in this crossroads kind of match. We are only five games into the season but it felt very much like the pressure was on leading up to kick off.
Leeds had really made a statement in the off season with so me very high profile signings. Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer had played together at Canberra Raiders in the NRL and this mouth watering partnership was set to reignite in 2022. So far though it’s not really happened. The Rhinos have won one out of five in the Super League and were embarrassed at home to Hull last week in a pretty woeful display.
Salford started the season in positive fashion with two solid performances but three defeats have followed leaving the Red Devils looking for a bounce back kind of victory. Despite Leeds’s poor start they are still a huge player in Rugby Leagues’s top flight and a win for Salford would certainly give the players a huge boost.
After two home games at the AJ Bell Stadium in stormy and damp conditions, this week the sun began to set after a fine day in the North West. A gentle breeze and mild temperatures left perfect conditions for Rugby League. The pitch looked in glorious condition and it was heart warming to see such a large number of children from the local schools cheering Salford on. Quite a night was in store!
Salford coach Paul Rowley made a few changes with Alex Gerrard starting at prop and Jack Wells returned from his loan spell at Barrow to make the bench.
Kruise Leeming returned for Leeds and Jack Broadbent made his first appearance of the season.
Before the match their was a minute of applause for David Stephenson. David passed away this week aged 63. An outstanding young centre with a prolific try record at Salford he was snapped up by Wigan where he enjoyed much success in the 1980s. He went on to play for Leeds and Leigh giving great service to all his clubs.
Salford got off to a nervous start when Ryan Brierley’s pass to Ken Sio went to ground returning a kick. Leeds thought they had hit the front but the referee ruled out Ash Handley’s touch down for a double movement.
Another mistake from the hosts then gifted the Rhinos a try. Salford failed to deal with a kick into the in goal. Mikolaj Oledzki pounced to score.
Joe Burgess came close for Salford but was denied a try by the video referee for a foot in touch.
The Red Devils did get back on level terms when Brierley found Ken Sio with a lovely weighted kick. Marc Sneyd booted off the touch line 6-6.
Both teams traded sets and it was becoming a very tough and rugged affair. Alex Gerrard put in another great shift and King Vuniyayawa showed his old club Leeds made a big mistake letting him go.
A slick move got the visitors back in front when Ash Handley went over. Rhyse Martin dragged the conversion wide. Bodene Thompson was sent to the sin bin right on half time after Leeds were caught off side on numerous occasions. Sneyd didn’t hesitate with his decision to go for the two points on offer. The match was in the balance at the break 8-10.
The opening stages of the second half were pretty cagey. Both packs went toe to toe and the match didn’t really catch fire until the hour mark. Rhinos prop Zane Tetevano clattered Ken Sio forcing the Salford flyer to leave the field with a head injury. Tetevano was sent to the sin bin. Paul Rowley had to shuffle things round with Chris Atkin coming on as a make shift winger. Sneyd failed to make touch from the penalty and moments later the Rhinos cautiously kicked a penalty to extend their lead to 8-12.
Sometimes matches need that spark and bit of quality to swing the momentum in your teams favour. Joe Burgess took a kick in his own in goal area and provided Salford with the boost they needed. Burgess with quick thinking took a quick re start and raced down the pitch, Salford moved the ball from left to right and it was Chris Atkin who slid over to level the scores. The excited crowd roared the conversion as Sneyd swung it over with great confidence once again off the touch line to put Salford in front 14-12.
The Red Devils went for the knockout punch and the hard working Elijah Taylor landed it. Sneyd with a flat pass and Taylor crashed over to delight the crowd.
Salford weren’t finished and continued to press home their dominance with another super try. Brodie Croft sent Vuniyayawa charging through and to see him in full flight was breathtaking. Brierley was in support to take the pass to scorch over in front of the Leeds supporters.
Salford don’t win this fixture very often but they certainly deserved it tonight. A very hard working display from Paul Rowley’s side with every player putting in a good honest shift. Rowley said in the press conference that he was looking forward to a brew.
The Red Devils are in Challenge Cup action next Friday when they travel to Wigan. The players, coach and supporters can relax this weekend though after a job well done.
Salford 26 Leeds 12.
Big thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos.