It seemed like a cup-tie, it felt like a cup-tie, and it certainly was as important as any cup-tie, yet when watching Bank Holiday Monday’s final away fixture of the regular season, it was anything but that, for cup-ties are usually tight, closely fought encounters, with both sides overly wary of making mistakes.

There certainly was no evidence of that from the Red Devils as they took on Castleford at the Jungle, in what was effectively a preliminary round, play-off, of their own, with both sides needing to win to be certain of a place in the actual play-offs, which start next week.

Throwing the ball around with a seeming carefree abandon, the Salford players, for around fifty-five minutes, ripped into their hosts, in a manner which absolutely stunned them.  Looking back on the game, the thing that is imprinted on the mind, as it so often has been recently, is the avalanche of tries they scored, and the exceptionally high quality of them, yet there were many other aspects of the performance, without which the victory would have been far more difficult to achieve.

Not least of these were the heroic efforts of Marc Sneyd and Ryan Brierley in chasing back, shortly after the start of the second half to overhaul Olpherts, as he hared down the left wing, after having intercepted a Salford attacking pass.  Delicately balanced as the game was, at that point, how it might have unfolded thereafter, had they not brought his progress to an early finish, thankfully does not need to be considered.

The, at times, valiant defence of the whole team, particularly, but not solely, during the latter stages of the first half, was imperative in retaining their lead into the break.  Tries were thwarted, even on occasions when the would-be scorer had crossed the line, a double dose of which came on the 23rd minute, when first Jack Ormondroyd, Shane Wright and Ryan Brierley, and then from the resultant play-the-ball, with the help of King Vuniyayawa, and Shane Wright again, Andy Ackers managed to get his body under the ball to prevent it from being grounded between the posts.

It was not always a tackle which was required.  Sometimes, just the pressure being put on an opponent by a Salford player racing at him, as he was receiving a pass, was enough to force an error from him.  The inside backs have become most adept at this now, and there were a number of these in evidence yesterday, the most notable being the way Eden was rushed into sending out an over-zealous pass to his left wing, which again deprived Olpherts of this opportunity to open his account.

The immaculate kicking of Sneyd, whether it be from the tee or at the end of sets, is something we now take for granted, just as we do with the energy put into the chases by his teammates.  Life is so much easier for the Red Devils, who usually progress at six points at a time, whereas other teams have to be content with a larger proportion of four points only.

It was good to see his slotting over a couple of early penalties in each half, firstly to give the Reds an early lead, and then later to kick-start the acquisition of points, after a near thirty-minute drought before half time.  In all he was successful with seven attempts out of eight, the one miss coming from a sixty metre attempt post first-half hooter.

Alongside all this there remains the hard yardage made by the forwards.  Alex Gerrard has been most reliable and  unshirking in this throughout the season and was in evidence again yesterday, while Ormondroyd capped one of his forward charges with a try and was unfortunate to have a second disallowed for a forward pass.  Tyler Dupree has made great progress since joining us earlier in the season, and Ackers was irrepressible in sparking attack after attack with his scoots from dummy half, or the speed and accuracy of his distribution from the play-the-ball.

It is from the combination of these, therefore, that the platform is laid for those wonderful, slick attacking moves, with the magnificent Brodie Croft the architect of so many of them.  In the few months he has been with us he has cemented the team around him, and must now strike fear into the hearts of any other club which has to face him.

He is fortunate, it is true, to have a volley of strike players around him who can capitalise on so many of his insertions into the opposition’s half.  These are the players whom we so often name, week after week, for scoring the tries, and absolutely thrilling us in so doing.  They also contribute much that might not be as readily recognised, as might have been the case with Kallum Watkins’s wide right to left pass, which ensured that Ken Sio’s interception resulted in a try, despite his being stopped, short of the line.

Finally, there are our fabulous, fans, many of whom travel to the farthest flung outreaches of the league, and make their presence felt on each and every occasion.  Your contribution is so important to the players, and they respond so magnificently to your encouragement, and in recognition we celebrate this by means of our banner photograph, with a player’s eye view from Monday’s game.

Putting this altogether, one can only rejoice at the outcome of having it all, so far, and that is in  an assured place in this season’s top six play-offs.  Who, back in March and early April would have predicted that – yet it is there to be looked forward to –  and, once they take the field in the first actual play-off, the team might well find, rather as they did recently against Hull, that, whoever it is against, they will have to rely more and more on all of the elements above, because the encounter might well be much more of a cup tie than this one was.

Just six weeks after the Leeds Rhinos had been beaten 26-12, at the A J Bell Stadium, in Round 6, they returned for a repeat encounter, yesterday, when they, once more, had to return back over the Pennines, having lost again, and by a score remarkably similar to that first fixture.

Things had moved on apace between the two matches, though, with the visitors playing this, their first match under the supervision of brand-new coach, Rohan Smith, and the significance of any team performing under the eagle eye of a new man at the top, cannot be overstated.  All too often, this additional pressure suffices to bring out in them a sudden return to form, with an unexpected victory to welcome their new coach’s tenure at the club.

Salford, on the other hand, following a somewhat disappointing Easter weekend, at Warrington and then at home to Catalans, had suddenly produced a vein of form we had not seen in previous rounds, in the closest of contests at Wigan, and then St Helens.  Indeed, the match at St Helens could have gone either way, and many left the Totally Wicked Stadium convinced that the better team had lost.

The return of a number of players, who had missed those two outings, served to bolster them for this contest, as did the inclusion, on the bench, of new signing, Tyler Dupree, who had only completed his move to join the Reds at the start of the week, but, nevertheless, played his part in producing our fourth win of the season.

The first half produced a most intriguing contest between what, in the early stages of the game, appeared to be two evenly matched sides, and judged solely upon the very few stoppages throughout the forty, provided spectators on both sides with full value for money.

When the stalemate was eventually broken, it was Salford who took the match to another level with two extremely well-supported tries.  In fact, three of their four such scores were built on support work of the highest order, and were a sheer joy to watch, with Deon Cross, once again showing what a class act he is at centre, feeding Ken Sio for the opening try, in almost identical fashion to the one which had turned the previous Leeds encounter in Salford’s favour.

Sio was unfortunate not to increase his tally on a couple of other occasions, the clearest of which chances, unusually, saw him unable to fully control the ball as he received it.  Only two minutes after taking the lead, the Red Devils showed that they are every bit as lethal on either flank, when good work from Jack Ormoroyd put Tim Lafae in the clear, and his pass  gave Joe Burgess a clear run to the line.

It was sheer intensive pressure which produced their third score, with Leeds’s defence thrown into turmoil by Brodie Croft’s kick to the try line  being fumbled, and Andy Ackers benefiting from being in the right place at the right time to ground between the posts.

So intense had the opening forty minutes proven to be that by the middle of the second period, both sides began to look quite tired, yet were still prepared to give whatever they could to the game.  The second half was therefore a rather less spectacular affair, with a stalemate developing between the pair with errors through fatigue increasing, though, with a twelve-point lead, it was Salford in whose favour time marched on.

The acquisition of a single point, from a Marc Sneyd drop goal, was undoubtedly the most crucial event of the half, for, if the Rhinos were finding it troublesome eating into a two-score lead, they were certainly going to have problems scoring, on three occasions.  Almost as if to celebrate that fact, the Reds took the game beyond the visitors, when man of the match Croft made a clean break to set up the supporting Ryan Brierley for the final try.

Exciting, and rewarding, as their attack was, it was their absolutely magnificent defence, during the arm-wrestles which developed in both halves, that kept them in control throughout.  Two, incredible one-on-one tackles, midway through the first half, by Kallum Watkins and then Cross, close to their own line, must have been sheer inspiration to the rest of the side, particularly when the going got really tough, in the later stages.

That they kept Leeds to only a pair of tries, one in each half and  with these having relatively little impact on the game. was testament to their commitment, throughout.  Leeds might not have been at their best, but the same was also said about both Wigan and St Helens.

The common factor in all of these fixtures has been the Red Devils’ resilience in repelling and thwarting all three sides over the full eighty minutes, and while they continue to do this, they will win far more matches than they lose.