Salford Devils kicked off their 2017 season at home to Wigan Warriors. Andrew Riley was there for Quays News.
Wigan Warriors arrived at the AJ Bell as Champions, and for the first half, looked like the team that beat Warrington at Old Trafford last October as Salford Devils hoped to put a dent in the title challenge of the Warriors ahead of their World Club game against Cronulla Sharks next Sunday.
When they scored in the corner after just three minutes, thanks to the returning Joe Burgess, it looked like a long and cold afternoon was in store for the home fans.
Salford were soon looking more like the side that could break into the top six of Super League, when just six minutes later, Lee Mossop, the former Wigan prop broke the line, only for a lack of support to stop the break. As Salford moved the ball out wide, Junior Sa’u was caught with a high shot by the Warriors Willie Isa that menat he had to leave the field for a concussion test, a move that saw the Wigan player put on report for the disciplinary to look at over the coming week.
Just three minutes later, and Ian Watson was forced to shuffle his pack for another concussion test, as Rob Lui took a boot to the head in a tackle, with Wigan scoring less than 60 seconds later, Burgess again, with Morgan Escare making no mistake with the conversion, the visitors led 0-10 after less than 15 minutes.
With both sides still getting up to speed after the close season, a fair few penalties and errors crept in, and both sides looked like they were still a couple of games away from being fully match fit.
After 25 minutes though, Salford were ripped apart down the left, and Oliver GIldart went over to extend the lead, with another missed conversion from Escare, the score was 0-14.
After passing his concussion test, Sa’u was cleared to return, as was Lui just minutes later, both reentering the field in time to see George Williams push the lead further with a try, and Escare beginning to find his range, after 30 minutes the score was 0-20.
Salford were looking very lacklustre, and the fear that the home fans had of yet another false dawn appeared to be coming to fruition, especially when in the final minute of the half, and on the back of two penalties, Joel Tomkins scored under the posts, and with the extras added, Wigan led 0-26 at the break.
Salford were looking outclassed for periods, but every now and then, there was a hint of what could be, and then in the 48th minute, Kriss Brinning scored to give the home fans a glimmer of hope, with Gareth O’Brien converting, at 6-26, it was a long way back, but it was a start.
Most of the second half, Wigan must have been wondering if Salford had changed their entire team, as they struggled to get close to them. Sadly for the home fans, possession was not to be converted onto the scoreboard, although Michael Dobson was held up after 58 minutes, it was to be a solid defensive performance from both sides until the 72st minute, when Sa’u deservedly scored, with O’Brien missing, and with 9 minutes left, at 10-26, there was that glimmer of hope.
Then, with just five minutes left, Dobson went in right under the sticks, O’Brien duly added the conversion from right in front of the posts, and it was 16-26, but it was too little too late from the home side.
Afterwards, Ian Watson was quick to point out that the game was almost an encapsulation of last season in one 80 minute chunk:
“In the first half, we were poor, and kind of gifted them the oportunities to score, and clung on a bit. Thats where we need to grind it out a bit.
If we’d kept it at 20, and not 26 before half time, who knows?”
Teams; Salford – Gareth O’Brien, Greg Johnson, Niall Evalds, Junior Sa’u, Justin Carney, Rob Lui, Michael Dobson ©, Craig Kopczak, Josh Wood, Lee Mossop, Josh Jones, George Griffin, Mark Flanagan, Kriss Brinning, Olsi Krasniqi, Lama Tasi, Adam Walne.
Wigan – Morgan Escare, Lewis Tierney, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Joe Burgess, George Williams, Thomas Leuluai, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Powell, Ben Flower, Willie Isa, Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin ©, Joel Tomkins, Tony Clubb, Taulina Tautai, Ryan Sutton.
Referee: Mr B. Thaler (RFL)