After a month’s absence from their home venue at the Salford Stadium, the Red Devils returned from their travels, on Sunday last, to entertain the Wigan Warriors, in what turned out to be, since their move there, a record attendance of spectators, for this Round 16 encounter.

It must have felt like an extremely bold step for the Directors to target, publicly, the breaking of the previously existing record, but by so doing it pioneered the way for the newly publicly owned club to draw on its resources of bodies around the town to rally round and help drive up the numbers to ensure a successful outcome in this respect.

It was not only the attendance, however, which marked the occasion, as a whole-day event had been planned to celebrate both the first home fixture under the new ownership and also Armed Forces Day, which culminated with a triple shot from a cannon at the northwest corner of the ground, thereby rousing the assembled multitude to greater excitement than ever.

And so, even before a ball had been kicked, the day had proved to be a considerable success and significant occasion for all those present, for which every single person involved in its inception and organisation deserves the utmost praise and gratitude.

For a game against such a side as the mighty Warriors and on such a special occasion, however, the side would really have preferred not to have had two members of its spine missing through injury, as was the case with both Andy Ackers and Brodie Croft.  Not that that reflects in any way upon their replacements, Amir Bourouh and the versatile Chris Atkin, who both slotted in smoothly at hooker and half back, respectively.

To then lose a third member of that crucial spine, in Ryan Brierley from the fullback role, on 35 mins, however, was a blow which really took its toll alongside the others, and it was probably as a result of the reorganization necessitated by this that led to the visitors snatching a half time lead from the grasp of the reshuffled Salford side, three minutes from the interval.

Every minute of that first half, though, had been keenly contested, set-for-set, throughout the full forty-minutes, with the Red Devils standing up magnificently to the Wiganers throughout the first quarter of the game, with solid defence and strong carries forward.

It was, therefore, as late as the 21st minute, before the Warriors opened the scoring with an unconverted try, after a sustained period of pressure brought about by repeat sets on the back of goal-line drop-outs and occasional Salford touches of the ball.  It is testament to the Salford players that they were able to repel the attack for as long as they had done.

Despite having had some early pressure of their own, though, the Red Devils had not really had sufficient field position to ask many questions of the Wigan defence, but then produced their best attack of the half when fine interplay down the left between Joe Burgess, Brierley, and Tim Lafai, took them into their opponents twenty metre area. 

An obliging penalty helped them remain a little bit longer down there, and after Ken Sio had gone close to scoring, the ever-improving Ben Helliwell put himself in a great position to receive Marc Sneyd’s slick pass and go over for their one try of the game, which, with Sneyd’s conversion, put them in front.

Having had the half-time break in which to restructure and regalvanise the side after the loss of Brierley, the Reds went straight into the attack, and good handling forced a most promising-looking overlap, on 43 mins, only for a rather wild pass into touch to scupper the opportunity, when simple one-to-on passing might well have turned the game in their favour.

As it was, a Salford handling error, three minutes later saw Wigan draw further ahead with a try direct from the ensuing scrum, with two more scores coming at ten to twelve minute intervals, to stretch the score beyond the hopes of the Red Devils.

They nevertheless still continued to take the game to Wigan in the last ten minutes but so well-drilled is the Warriors’ defence that they were prepared to concede set-restarts, which would once have brought a penalty, right throughout the game, thus nullifying the Salford attack, until six minutes from the end, when another missed opportunity, this time on the left, was lost with a poor final pass to Burgess, who would have had a walk in.

Looking back on the second half, unlike the visitors who were clinical in their finishing, it was the Reds’ failure to capitalise on those two scoring opportunities which gave the final score such a significant difference.  Even had only one of them brought a try it would have put them into double figures, whilst scoring both and with conversions would have put them within a somewhat more creditable eight points.

Disappointing a result as it was, though, it could in no way detract from the impressive event the club had turned the day into being.  It is an occasion when everyone could feel proud to have been involved with the club and to have been in attendance to savour and enjoy it.

For the second week in a row, Salford Red Devils succeeded in defeating French opposition, in temperatures in the thirties – conditions which should have more than favoured both sets of opponents.  Surprising as last week’s victory over the Catalans Dragons was to many people, this latest win was, if anything, even more commendable, coming, as it did, on French soil, in front of a most partisan crowd, against a side, which, at home, in recent weeks, had put all manner of opposition to the sword, thereby gaining a momentum which had seen them lift themselves off the bottom of the table to go above Wakefield.

Despite their Super League Championship aspirations, the Dragons, in comparison, had been visitors to the A J Bell, having, by choice, flown in and out on the day, having succumbed to struggling Warrington, the previous week, at the Magic Weekend.  After this latest victory, it is now the Red Devils who have the momentum of recent victories, and, dare we say it, aspirations of making the top six at the end of the season.  Let’s be fair, even St Helens failed to win in Toulouse, while Leeds, in Round 19, had gone down by twenty points to six.

Not so the Red Devils, though you would hardly have expected so, when they fell behind by six points, with only ninety seconds on the clock.  It certainly was not the most auspicious of openings for them, with their conceding a penalty at the end of the very first set, thus giving Toulouse a second look at the Reds’ line, before opening up the defence on the final tackle.

Concerning as many of us might have found this, it has to be said that, for the remaining seventy-eight and a half minutes, the visitors successfully kept their line intact, no mean achievement, especially when one takes into account the venue and the conditions, while Toulouse’s other five points all came from kicks at goal.

It took the Red Devils until the 24th minute, to cross the home line, when Jack Ormoroyd charged over, but with at least one body beneath him, preventing his grounding of the ball.  That attempt, however, was encouragement that they were getting close to scoring, and some four minutes later, a loose pass by Toulouse, in their own half, was acquired by Kallum Watkins.  Anexcellent end-of-set kick from Mark Sneyd was taken by Joe Burgess on the try line, and all he had to was place the ball down cleanly, which he did.

For the most part, however, the first half had settled into a war of attrition, with first one side and then the other using possession to test out their opposition when in possession, particularly close to their opponents’ line.  Somewhat surprisingly, it was a drop goal, by Toulouse, five minutes from half time, which broke the deadlock, and led to a further couple of points shortly afterwards.

A clean break by Gigot, one of very few in the half, was, most thankfully, brought to an end by Burgess’s ankle tap.  Watkins’s drop onto the Frenchman, to ensure the tackle, was penalised by the referee, for unintentional contact with the head, and former Salford U19s, Chris Hankinson, doubled his score with the boot, bringing up a 9-6 half-time, home lead.

Tight as the first forty had been, the second half was quite the opposite, with the third quarter belonging solely to Salford.  Indeed, the very first set ended with Sneyd’s magnificent, 40-20, and then his kick at the end of the subsequent set, being fumbled and presenting the Red Devils with a third.

When, on 49 mins, the French side lost the ball, on the second tackle of a set, as a result of the constant pressure they were under, Salford were quickly awarded a penalty.  The lovely flowing action of their passing had been in evidence, on and off throughout the game, and was produced to fine effect for Ken Sio, to receive the ball in sufficient space to go over in the corner to put the visitors in front for the first time.

True, Toulouse reclaimed the lead, temporarily, on 53mins, courtesy Hankinson’s penalty goal. but that second Salford try had merely heralded in one of their purple patches for the next fifteen minutes.  They restored their dominance on the scoreboard two minutes later, when an overlap was worked on the left, directly from a scrum, giving Burgess a clear run to the line for a converted try.

A truly tremendous break by Brodie Croft, on 59 mins, thoroughly deserved a try, but, unfortunately, his support overran him and he was tackled in possession, with the Red Devils then having to be content with Sneyd’s taking a leaf out of the opposition’s book, and slotting over a penalty goal to make up for the one –  the only one – he had missed, all afternoon.

Sio wound up the evening’s scoring, with another converted try in the corner, after a strong hit-up by Helliwell on the previous tackle, after which the ball was moved further to the right, where the winger used clever footwork to beat his opponents to get over the line.

The final fifteen minutes of the game saw the home side regroup and throw everything into their attack, but their only success was in forcing three goal-line drop-outs from kicks into the in-goal area.

Almost unbelievably, just as Burgess had saved the day with an ankle tap on Gigot in the dying seconds of the first half, so he repeated the exercise, this time without the need for additional help, on Ashall-Bott from a break following his twenty-metre restart, some seven minutes from the final whistle.  That proved to be their last fling of the dice, and the Red Devils were able to pocket the points and return home to prepare for next week’s visit from St Helens.