The unbeaten Salford Red Devils welcomed Toronto Wolfpack to a wet and windy AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon in what would be a clash of the titans at the top of the Super 8s.
Toronto, unsurprisingly, conceded the first penalty of the afternoon for a high tackle to give Salford good field position. This was followed by a third tackle kick from Jackson Hastings which Gareth O’Brien couldn’t control and knock-on just a metre from his own line.
This set was the platform for Salford to score the first points of the afternoon. Ed Chamberlain was the man on the end of a free slowing move from Salford which included a classy catch and pass from Niall Evalds. Chamberlain converted his own try to make it 6-0 to the home side after six minutes.
Toronto couldn’t deal with Robert Lui and Jackson Hastings kicking game in the early stages as they were forced to concede a goal-line drop out to face their fifth consecutive set.
Salford crossed the line again as the clock hit nine minutes after another passing move from left to right, but Niall Evalds’ try was disallowed due to obstruction to let Toronto off the hook.
Salford conceded another penalty and gave Toronto the chance to attack from just 10 metres out but the Red Devils were determined to keep the Championship side out and Ryan Lannon tidied up Josh McCrone’s loose kick through.
Both sides were looking to play a physical but also free-slowing game and neither side could go two sets without conceding a penalty in defence.
Salford were pressing the Wolfpack line but a knock-on meant the move came to nothing.
Lama Tasi made his presence field as a miscommunication between O’Brien and Blake Wallace meant that Tasi tackled O’Brien without the ball and with the hit being high, Tasi was shown a yellow card.
The was the leveller that the Wolfpack were looking for but a loose carry from Darcy Lussick let Salford run the ball back.
The Hastings and Lui half-back partnership was working wonders from Salford and it was Lui who made the next big impact as he powered his way over for the 12-man Red Devils for their second try of the afternoon. Chamberlain converted from the left hand touchline this time to make it a 12-0 lead from Salford.
The Super League quality of Salford was clear to see as they were winning both the attacking and defensive battle.
The 12-men of Salford were having to work twice as hard in defence and Kris Welham came up with a huge hit on Blake Wallace to shut down and 5th tackle play that Toronto had decided to run.
A Joey Lussick break straight after Welham’s tackle was the catalyst for another Salford penalty as O’Brien held him down, at this point both captains were told to tidy up the ruck in defence as too many penalties had been conceded.
Chamberlain slotted the penalty as Salford went 14-0 up with a quarter of the game remaining as they welcomed back Lama Tasi from the sin-bin.
A strip from Craig Kopczak meant the Toronto had to face another attacking set from Salford and after a sloppy fifth tackle play, O’Brien knocked on again as he failed to collect a George Griffin kick.
The Wolfpack managed to hold out, but couldn’t get past their own 30 metre line in their exit set.
The try of the afternoon came from Jackson Hastings as he claimed his third try of the qualifiers.
It was champagne rugby from the Red Devils as they played out from within their own half on the last tackle and a lovely seven pass move was finished off by Hastings.
Chamberlain made it four out of four from the boot to make it 20-0 to the home side.
No further scores came in the first half as Salford dominated Toronto in the first half with just two missed tackle in the first 40 minutes.
Half-time: Salford Red Devils 20-0 Toronto Wolfpack.
Toronto finally got themselves on the scoreboard however, as after 6 minutes of the first half Adam Sidlow powered over between Joey Lussick and Mark Flanagan to score next to the posts as the Wolfpack looked to make a 20-point comeback. Gareth O’Brien converted to make it 20-6.
Wolfpack made it two quick back-to-back tries as Matty Russell collected a perfect O’Brien grubber kick to score in the left hand corner as they cut Salford’s lead to 10 points. O’Brien just missed his conversion attempt.
Luke Burgess had been a physical impact on the Salford defence but a high tackle on Jacob Emmitt overstepped the mark and was rightly shown a red card after direct contact with the head.
This meant that Salford had to survive the remaining 27 minutes with just 12 men.
Toronto looked to capitalise straight away but the scramble defence for Chamberlain and Lui was enough to deter the Wolfpack.
Salford were punished though as just minutes later, Andy Ackers picked the ball up from dummy-half and scooted over between Kopczak and Evalds. O’Brien converted to make it Salford 20-16 Toronto.
Two back-to-back penalties from Toronto relieved Salford of some pressure as they looked to extend their lead after being on the back foot for 20 minutes.
A third card of the day was shown to Chase Stanley as his dangerous tackle on Junior Sa’u was deemed too dangerous for just a penalty.
Now 12-on-12, Salford took control of the game once more as a Hastings kick through forced a goal-line drop out from Toronto.
They eventually stopped the Toronto fightback as Ryan Lannon crashed over the top of the soft Wolfpack defence under the posts. Chamberlain kept his 100% record from the boot as Salford regained their 10-point lead.
The game was nowhere near over though as Darcy Lussick was held up over line with just 10 minutes remaining, and with Toronto back up to a full compliment of 13, all the pressure was on Salford.
The Red Devils were able to withstand that pressure as their defence was a step ahead of the Toronto attacking line with Chamberlain shutting down Gary Wheeler before he could release Matty Russell into the corner and force the turnover on the last.
Salford were awarded a penalty 45 metres out after more interference at the ruck, and Ed Chamberlain showed his kicking prowess ad he slotted the kick to make it 28-16 lead with six minutes remaining.
George Griffin showed that it wasn’t just backs who can kick as his second kick of the game was a high bomb that Matty Russell couldn’t deal with and Salford were then gifted a differential penalty as ran the ball at the Wolfpack line.
The set ended with a missed Jackson Hastings drop-goal but with just three minutes remaining Toronto still needed three scores to win.
However, the Wolfpack tested that right edge defence of Salfords but Kopczak stopped the attacking move with a failed interception to gift Toronto a scrum 10 metres out.
The game didn’t finish without controversy as Jackson Hastings hit Gareth O’Brien with a swinging arm and a niggly knee to the head after the Toronto full-back gathered a Robert Lui high ball.
Robert Hicks rightly showed Hastings a red card as O’Brien was treated on the floor to leave Salford down to 11-men for the last 13 seconds which brought a sour-end to the proceedings at the AJ Bell stadium.
One more tackle was all that there was time for at the AJ Bell Stadium but a fourth win from four games in The Qualifiers meant that Salford’s promotion was all but confirmed with Leeds to follow next week.
Full-time: Salford Red Devils 28-16 Toronto Wolfpack
Sky Man of the Match:Robert Lui – The half-back instrumental in both attack and defence as were most of the Red Devils side but Toronto just couldn;t handle his high bombs with multiple knock-ons and goal-line drop outs being forced.
My Man of the Match: Ed Chamberlain – The Salford winger, try-scorer and goal-scorer was superb in both attack and defence, especially under the high ball. His 16-point haul matched Toronto’s entire match point total and his performance over the 80 minutes was outstanding for a side who were atleast a man down for 27 minutes of the game.
Salford Red Devils:
Evalds, Bibby, Welham, Sa’u, Chamberlain, Lui, Hastings, Burgess, Wood, Tasi, Jones, Griffin, Lannon.
Subs: Kopczak, Burke, J. Lussick, Flanagan
Tries: Chamberlain, Lui, Hastings, Lannon
Goals: Chamberlain (6/6)
Red Cards: Burgess, Hastings
Yellow Cards: Tasi
O’Brien, Russell, Stanley, Wheeler, Caton-Brown, McCrone, Wallace, Buchanan, Beswick, D. Lussick Paterson, Dixon, Sims.
Subs: A.Ackers, Sidlow, Krasniqi, Emmitt.
Tries: Sidlow, Russell, Ackers
Goals: O’Brien (2/3)
Yellow Cards: Stanley
Featured Image courtesy of Toronto Wolfpack