Leeds 30  Salford 52              Match Report – David Clegg
After having had the end of their season rescued by the Leeds Rhinos’ willingness to stage this, initially scheduled, home fixture, at their Headingley stadium, as a ‘curtain raiser’ to their first team fixture, the Salford U19s rose to the occasion magnificently, running in an unbelievable fifty-two points against their stunned hosts.
And make no mistake about it, this match mattered greatly to Leeds, as, prior to this, their last game of the regular season, they were lying third in the league, one point behind Wigan Warriors, ahead of the top four play-off.   A win to them was vital, therefore, in enabling them to secure second place for themselves, and thus a home fixture in the semi-final.  As it is now, they will have to travel to Orrell to face the Warriors in that bastion of dashed dreams, which is now known as the Ad-Option Community Stadium.
None of this was in the minds of the travelling Salford team as they took to the field for their salvaged match, rather, they were much more intent on building upon their previous two close, away encounters, against the City of Hull, and Wigan.  And how they did so; first building up a 12-24 half time lead, before racking up a score line which will have caused most people to rub their eyes in disbelief.
It was all based upon a game plan, into which the players had all bought, and each and everyone of them clearly understood their own role and the absolute importance of sticking resolutely to it.  Consequently, they initially matched, then bettered, and finally totally outplaying their illustrious opponents, in front of the rapidly increasing home crowd, which had turned up early, knowing the importance of the game to their side.
So tight and intense was the opening arm-wrestle, that it was only as the result of a Leeds penalty, that the Rhinos opened the scoring with a quite ruthlessly executed try from 40m out, with a run which scythed through the Red Devils’ defence, to put themselves in front for the first, and what was to prove to be the last, time, 6-0.
As might be expected, this boosted the home side’s confidence and heralded a period of pressure for the Salford lads, which was only defused when winger, Jack Thompson latched onto a speculative Leeds pass to the flank, and the six footer used every inch of his long legs, over the 90m to the line, to out-stride and outpace his pursuing opposite number, for whom the pass had originally been intended.  Lewis Fairhurst was undaunted as he put his side level with the first of eight successful kicks at goal.  Indeed, it was to be his final kick of the evening alone, with which he was unsuccessful.
Being level, however, was not good enough for the inspired Red Devils, and a wonderfully quick play-the-ball by Lewis Hatton, within a minute of the restart, gave hooker, Aaron Moore, space to dart from dummy-half, and hoodwink the fullback with a feigned pass, to score under the posts.
Five minutes later, and Moore was to double the Salford lead, with his trade mark ‘show and go’, from close to the line, but Leeds, with a succession of four sets of possession pulled back to 12-18 on 23 mins.
How the Red Devils responded to that was to prove crucial, as this would often have led to an equalising try, followed by yet another to the opposition before half time, in the past.  Not on this occasion, though, and the players settled in for a battle of attrition, before restoring their twelve point cushioning.   Fairhurst’s high bomb was dropped by  Leeds’s fullback, in the face of the menacing Salford chase, and in the resultant attack, Fairhurst’s tricky run, from 8m out, foxed the home defence, five minutes from the interval.
The start of the second half was to prove to be the Red Devils’ greatest test of character, as Leeds came out fully fired up, and two long-range tries, the first within a minute, brought them back level.  That strength of character, however, was there in abundance, exemplified by one almighty bone-shaking tackle, by second rower, Adam Jones, which not only discomfited the recipient, who got to his feet most gingerly, but which, judging by the faces of the rest of his teammates, coupled with the gasps from around the whole ground, had much the same effect on the whole side.
No coincidence then that a couple of minutes later, a Rhinos’ error in their own half enabled Moore to repeat his ‘show and go’, and not only complete his hat-trick, but restore the Salford lead, at 24-30.  It also ushered in two further Salford scores, without reply.
The first came from a break down the right edge by centre, Ben Calland, who fed the supporting, Brad Storey. Then, 3 mins later, Storey was involved again, receiving a pass from Jack Cottington, who, by means of strong, well angled run, had made the initial break.  Storey took the ball at pace for 40m before sending Brad Whelan in at the corner.  24-42
The only glitch with the ball, in the whole of the second half, came on 63 mins, when an end-of-set kick struck a Leeds player, and ricocheted backwards into touch.  Getting the ball, therefore, in good field position, gave Leeds the opportunity to reduce the deficit by a further six points.
The Salford lads were in no mood to let anything slip, however, and two further tries, on 69 and 77 mins wreaked further damage on Leeds’s quest for a home play-off place.  The first came as a complete replication of Thompson’s opening try when Whelan took a wayward Leeds pass to race 95m downfield, for Fairhurst to tack on his final conversion, before the impressive Jack Cottington got in from close range, for the concluding four points.
On an occasion which will live long in the memory of all those involved, the celebrations at the end showed just how much it all meant to them all, and also gave an indication of the boost to the whole club, of which it was in need.
Tries: Cameron Smith, Nathan Waring, Ryan Jones, Joe Sanderson, Josh Jordan-Roberts
Goals: Joe Sanderson
Connor Williams, Brad Whelan, Ben Calland, Alex Gaskell, Jack Thompson, Ben Heyes, Lewis Fairhurst, Jack Cottington, Aaron Moore, Brad Storey, Declan Hidden, Adam Jones, Lewis Hatton
Lewis Brown, Tom Millington, Jonny Scott, Luke Fowden