Well, what did we say? Relieve Westwood of the captaincy and see the much-needed cunt return to our pack.
On the 50th minute, SBW shot out of the line from a drop out and almost decapitated Adam Walne with a swinging arm.
For the sadists who yearn for the days of Les Boyd and Kevin Tamati (or, maybe, they just yearn to be young and able to smoke on the terraces again?), it was probably beautiful.
For everyone else, it was probably about time. Walne had been a busy lad all game – and had only just returned to the field after being sin binned himself for the 289th high tackle of the game – when Bennie decided he’d had enough and it was time to lamp someone.
You’re probably thinking ‘there’s no way he’s going to defend what Westwood did and criticise Salford’s tactics’. If you are, you’re wrong. Soz.
You get the impression from watching the game that the City Reds had been training with Wigan in pre-season. There was so much niggle and bite about their play. At times, their tactics were on par with Fred Talbort teaching Ian Brown how to wank for vulgarity levels.
Cannon ball tackles, third man in swinging arms, squeezing the head; Harris served somewhat of an apprenticeship under Wane and it is definitely showing.
Weller Huaraki, fresh from stinking the joint out at Castleford, has evidently reinvented himself as a cheap shot merchant on the right edge of Koukash RLFC’s defence. His late shot on O’Brien early on set the tone for the rest of the afternoon and the next 80 minutes were largely spent with both sets of forwards exchanging angry glares and ‘run at me’ requests.
In between the grappling and sparring, a rugby game threatened to break out and Salford actually enjoyed far more of the possession and field position than we did for most of the first half.
In fact, in terms of completed sets and other supposed indications of performance, Salford will likely play worse than this in matches and win this year, while we could conceivably play better overall and lose against some teams.
They bombed three clear cut chances in the first 20 minutes did the City Reds. The first coming after Cory Patterson made a break downfield. He was halted short of the line and when the ball was shifted wide, good edge defence forced Josh Griffin into touch.
Niall Evalds, standing in at full back for the injured potential match winner Kevin Locke, was next in line to break through Wire’s defence. Again he was stopped short, and again the ball was shifted wide – to the opposite wing this time and Ben Jones-Bishop showed why he couldn’t get in the Leeds team when he dropped the ball in acres of space with the try line beckoning.
It was an early scare for us and the travelling support – Salford bringing more to this game than they have season ticket holders, giving it a real cup final feel for the Reds – began to celebrate when that lad Walne forced his way over the line. They looked as silly as their mascot, though, when Richard Silverwood ruled against them for the first time all game and deemed he was held up over the line.
By the time the teams went in at half-time, we were 12-0 up and the Reds were down to 12 men.
Stefan man of the Matchford – see what I did there? Shite, wasn’t it? – displayed dazzling dancing feet to break through the Reds defence and take advantage of the fact that the world’s best full back Kevin Locke wasn’t playing to slip a short pass to the supporting Richie Myler who strolled home for an easy try in front of the angry Man United fans.
Evidently the Stretford Enders are still frothing at the mouth over the fact that he was sold to us 6 years ago in a deal that saved their club from liquidation. He always gets vile abuse that move, none of which he deserves, and it’s always nice to see him score against them just for that.
We were over again minutes later when Micky Higham punctured a scrappy few minutes of rugby with a dive over from dummy half. We’d made another break but the Devils’ defence were again determined to niggle and break up any form of free flowing rugby. After a penalty for a high tackle on the eventual try scorer, we chose to tap it and the resulting play the ball was farcical but Micky had seen enough and used his nouse to take the direct route and go alone.
We’d actually looked a better team since he came on. Clark’s first competitive action in the wire shirt had been spent largely in defence and packing down in scrums as we turned over so much ball and made such little yards up field, let alone get a quick play the ball in good areas for him to exploit.
Walne was given his marching orders just before the break for another high tackle about 18 seconds after Silverwood had given Salford an official team warning, complete with the silly windmill mime and everything.
When Westwood went in with a windmill of his own for his yellow card, Salford must have had their tails up. They’d managed to keep us out during their ten minute spell of numerical inferiority; Dobson cleverly electing to drill the ball into touch deep inside our half after five drives.
However, SBW reverting to type was the best thing that could have happened for us. The Salford game plan was similar to Wigan’s in so many ways, in particular in that play off game last year where we failed to stand up the Gripper Stebson clones.
This year, however, we look much more ready and willing to match anyone for aggressiveness. After almost an hour of swinging arms, cannon ball tackles and late hits, Westwood raged for Walne and set a marker down for the rest of the team. Like fuck are we going to get bullied up front.
Ashton Sims, for his part, lived up to his billing as an enforcer too and went toe-to-toe with Hock and Paterson a number of times and the pictures of him laughing at the *other* balding ex-Hull KR man at a scrum are brilliant.
While reduced to 12 men, we stepped the intensity up a gear and the pack got us moving downfield before a neat Gaz O’Brien grubber was touched down by Atkins.
Fair play to the relegation-threatened Reds, though, they never gave in and they eventually made the man advantage count when Dobson cleverly spotted that our right edge defence had been sucked in towards the middle and his cut out pass found BJ Bishop who made no mistake this time and touched down in the corner.
Rhys Evans’ try killed the game off when a slick handling move saw the ball shifted to Monaghan who slipped Bridgend’s finest in for an easy score.
Jones-Bishop scored another consolation try late on, but it won’t take any gloss off a pleasing start to the season from Wire. If we can outscore teams with such little ball from deep, we’ll be pretty hard to stop when we’re steamrolling teams up front. Hull on Friday and they’ll be buzzing with their win over Huddersfield.
A Grand Final preview between the club whose year everyone else always says it is and the club who actually always say it’s their year, perhaps? Doubt it.