While the rest of the sporting world ground to a coronavirus induced halt, Rugby League put on a brave (some may say foolhardy) face and decided to push ahead with the weekends’ programme. In a repeat of last season’s play-off, Salford Red Devils took on the Wigan Warriors with two league points on offer.
Jackson Hastings returned to the side where he was named as Man of Steel last season, hoping get a win against the side he helped to take to the Grand Final in 2019. But the Warriors were without their usual kicker as Zak Hardaker was rested after picking up a knock. Flower and Partington were also banned after last weeks win against Hull KR.
The Warriors have a great record at the AJ Bell Stadium and knew that a win would guarantee that they would finish the round at the top of the table, but Ian Watson’s side were desperate for a win to put some breathing space between themselves and the relegation spot.
Expansive rugby early from Wigan saw Bevan French go close but it was a Chris Hankinson penalty goal, as the result of a high tackle on George Burgess, which opened the scoring after five minutes.
Salford struck back on eleven with a Tui Lolohea penalty after Burgess was this time the offender, gifting a penalty in front of the sticks.
The perfect return for Jackson Hastings took thirteen minutes as he ran through a broken Red Devils defence to score under the sticks after a kick-off knock-on from Ken Sio. Hankinson added the conversion for 8-2 after fourteen minutes.
Five minutes before the interval Sam Powell took an offload in space and pushed through the Red Devils defenders and ground on the line. Hankinson added his third goal of the night for 14-2.
Hankinson missed a penalty kick with a few seconds remaining and the hooter sent the sides into the sheds with the visitors holding a twelve point lead.
There were signs of hope on fifty-eight when the Red Devils kept the ball alive as Niall Evalds found his way through a broken Wigan defence to get over the whitewash and score under the sticks. Lolohea added the goal to get the home side within six points of their opponents.
Evalds got his second on sixty-four when he picked up a Wigan attacking kick twenty metres from his own line and went eighty metres to score by the uprights. Lolohea added the conversion to level the scores, Salford scoring twelve unanswered second half points.
On seventy-two Kevin Brown stole a try to give Salford the lead. The Red Devils had done brilliantly to work the ball downfield and on the last tackle Brown backed himself to go from acting half back to throw the dummy and dive for the line. Lolohea was unable to add the conversion with just over six minutes remaining.
A fabulous crunching Dan Sarginson tackle stopped Wigan in their tracks on seventy-eight to seal a famous win for the Red Devils.
Wigan were good in the first forty, but Salford were better in the second. This was a sensational fightback win for the Red Devils against a Wigan side who appeared to be in total control for the first fifty minutes. Salford held their nerve and worked hard for a deserved win. Adrian Lam’s side will take some getting over this loss, the Red Devils will celebrate an important two points as they look to climb the table.
Red Devils: Evalds (2T), Sio, Welham, Sarginson, Williams, Lolohea (3G), Brown (T), Mossop, Lussick, Yates, Lannon, Roberts, McCarthy. Subs: Pauli, Ikahihifo, Flanagan, Kear.
Warriors: French, Manfredi, Hankinson (3G), Bibby, Marshall, Hastings (T), Leuluai, Byrne, Powell (T), Burgess G, Isa, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Havard, Bullock, Clark, Smith.
Referee: James Child.