In a repeat of last seasons 'Million Pound Game' thriller, Super League’s high-flying Salford Red Devils had a Challenge Cup sixth round date with Championship leaders Hull KR. The Robins were out for revenge after last seasons heartbreak but it would be an uphill struggle against a Devils side who have found top form in 2017.
The difference in divisions meant that the Red Devils were massive favourites with the bookies but try telling that to KR and their travelling mass of supporters from east Yorkshire. While the main priority for the Robins is a quick return to the top flight, tonight was all about the Cup and getting one over on Marwan Koukash’s side.
It was end to end in the opening exchanges in a game that was being played at breakneck speed.
Kris Welham seemed to have managed to get a stretched hand on a Robert Lui grubber on nine minutes to give Salford the lead but the try was ruled out by the video referee. Four minutes later and Jordan Abdul also had a try ruled out by the video official after a knock-on in the build up.
On seventeen KR hit the front after a fifty metre Shaul Lunt sprint for the line from the back of the scrum. The Hull KR skipper showed the chasing pack a clean pair of heels to dive over the whitewash and send his supporters into early delirium. Jamie Ellis added the extra two.
Lunt got his second on twenty-two, again flat-footing the Red Devils defence. Once again it was a run direct from the back of the scrum, on the angle, and over the whitewash from ten metres out. Ellis added the goal and at 12-0 the Red Devils were rocked.
As Salford’s frustration grew their discipline deteriorated and after two quick penalties, KR accepted the offer of kickable penalty and Ellis extended the lead.
There were three minutes left in the half when Salford registered their first points. Ryan Lannon picked up a Michael Dobson grubber on the KR line and stooped down to ground. Dobson added the extras to give the home crowd some cheer just before the interval.
Ellis screwed a drop goal attempt wide of the uprights as the hooter sounded on a first half which Rovers had edged against a Red Devils side that they’d managed to keep quiet for long spells.
With the second half just two minutes old Craig Kopczak went straight down the middle, off a Lui pass, to step past Ben Cockayne and score under the sticks. Dobson kicked the extras and within five minutes of game time the Red Devils were right back in the game at 12-14.
Salford hit the front when Kriss Brining went from the back of the scrum, ran the angle to go to the the left wing and made it forty metres to the goal line. Dobson failed to convert, hitting the woodwork.
With the line begging Lannon celebrated too early and was hauled down by Nick Scruton. Jake Butler-Fleming held down in the tackle and saw yellow from the referee with Dobson kicking the penalty from under the sticks for 18-14.
Ben Murdoch-Masila sealed the Red Devils win when he collected a Welham tap back off an O’Brien kick to go five metres and dive over. Dobson added the extras for 24-14 after seventy-three minutes to see his side into the next round.
This was a game of two halves. KR bossed the first, and Salford dominated the second. The Red Devils managed to keep calm when the pressure could have got to them, and the doubled down, dug deep and ground out the win.
Elsewhere in the cup tonight there were big wins for Wakefield Trinity and Hull FC. Trinity won 56-4 away at Dewsbury Rams while FC stunned the Catalans Dragons with a massive 62-0 win. Wakefield and Hull join Salford, and last night’s winners, Featherstone in the draw for the quarter finals.
Red Devils: Evalds, Sa’u, Jones, Welham, Johnson, Lui, Dobson (4G), Mossop, Tomkins, Tasi. Murdoch-Masila (T), Lannon (T), Krasniqi. Subs: Kopczak (T), Hauraki, Brining (T), O’Brien.
KR: Cockayne, Butler-Fleming (SB), Minns, Heffernan, Shaw, Abdull, Ellis (3G), Scruton, Lunt (2T), Johnson, Blair, Greenwood, Kavanagh. Subs: Dockar-Clay, Lawler, Mulhern, Salter.
Referee: Rob Hicks.