Salford arrived in St.Helens brimming with belief after a wonderful run of form that’s taken them to the last four in the Super League. The sun was shining for this early afternoon kick off and the Salford travelling support packed the away terrace. A line of coaches arrived around an hour before kick off and the noise outside the ground added to the special atmosphere. I wasn’t around in the 1970s but I’ve heard a fair bit about those days and the army of supporters who used to travel to matches.
Salford coach Paul Rowley had to make a slight alteration to his side with Brodie Croft missing but on the whole things stayed pretty settled. Chris Atkin started at stand off with Amir Bourouh slotting in on the bench.
The match started in rip roaring fashion and St.Helens came out firing. Salford lost Andy Ackers very early in the match with a head injury and sadly the Red Devils hooker didn’t return. Young hooker Bourouh was thrown into the action a lot earlier than he would of expected.
Saints enjoyed the early possession and territory. After coming close to a try from a kick into the in goal the home side got the games first try from another kick through. In form second rower Joe Batchelor pounced on Johnny Lomax’s measured kick to score.
Saints cranked the intensity level right up and looked set to score again but Joe Burgess saved a certain try with a last ditch ankle tap to thwart Tommy Mackinson. Salford were brave in defence and matched their hosts set for set but when Batchelor scored his second try the Red Devils were really under pressure 12-0 down.
Saints were tough in the tackle and their was no doubting the intensity of the occasion. Every tackle was a bone cruncher but when Morgan Knowles bent Chris Atkin’s arm behind his back referee Chris Kendall had no choice but send Knowles to the sin bin. Salford made it count and on their first real attack Kallum Watkins took a lovely pass from Atkin to power over.
Atkin was copping his fair amount of punishment in the tackles and when Jack Welsby hit him with an absolute bell ringer he shook it off and carried on.
As half time approached Mackinson attempted a penalty goal from almost forty yards out but it sailed wide.
Lomax continued to pull the strings for the home side and was a constant threat for Salford to deal with. As the hooter sounded he dropped a goal to give Saints a significant seven point lead 13-6 at the break.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first. Saints dominated for the first ten minutes but Salford weathered the storm soaking up plenty of pressure to snuff out the danger.
Marc Sneyd was penalised for a dubious looking high tackle and Saints snubbed the chance to kick the penalty instead looking for a knock out punch.
A try seemed on but a double movement got Salford off the hook.
Chris Atkin was clattered again and briefly left the field for the blood bin. He was soon back on the pitch, his spirit and commitment to the cause was remarkable.
Salford then lit the fuse and the game set alight. Joe Burgess roared down the left wing passing to Ryan Brierley in support who raced under the sticks. The Salford’s supporters went ballistic. Sneyd converted, 13-12. Saints were blowing and the game seemed to be within Salford’s grasp. They attacked again and when a huge gap opened Elijah Taylor charged into score but the joy was short lived as referee Kendall adjudged it to be obstruction.
You couldn’t take your eyes off the match. It was one of those games that seems to just fly by before your eyes. Everything happens so fast and before you know it the closing stages are approaching.
A lapse in concentration cost Salford very dearly. Another kick into the in goal from Lomax sat up perfectly and young fullback Jon Bennison raced out of nowhere to touch down inches from the dead ball line. The try was awarded after being checked by the video referee. At 19-12 Salford continued to play attacking rugby and refused to give in. Tim Lafai chased a kick into the in goal but was dragged back by Mackinson. The Saints winger was sin binned but their was no checking with the video referee for a possible penalty try. Salford took it on the chin and carried on working until the final hooter.
This match would of made a grand final, a terrific advert for Rugby League. Yes their were controversial moments and things that will be argued over in the future. For Salford and their supporters it’s still a bit raw but the team, club and fans have been sensational this season. The entertainment they produced has lit up the sport. It was a brave effort and losing Andy Ackers early on was a huge blow. Youngster Amir Bourouh worked his socks off and he’s got an exciting future in front of him at Salford. St.Helens are a champion side and they showed plenty of quality today. They had a game plan for Salford and they did their best to nullify the threat of the Red Devils. This was a close game and could of gone either way in the second half. Saints had the edge and they will now play Leeds in the Grand Final next Saturday.
Salford can now relax and be proud of their 2022 season. This club has made so much progress on and off the pitch this year let’s hope in 2023 we can do it all again and keep growing this proud club of ours. A team of heroes who we can’t ask anymore of.
St.Helens 19 Salford 12.
Thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos