Salford reintroduced themselves to Super League with a morale-boosting win, but they will be unlikely to meet a team during the rest of this season as poor as Widnes were in the second half at The Willows yesterday.
Trailing at half-time after being forced to defend for long periods, there seemed limited prospects for the City Reds in their first match back in the top flight. They dominated the rest of the game, though, and could have won by a bigger margin than they did.
"We should have scored a few more tries," said the delighted Salford coach, Karl Harrison. "I thought we were fitter than them, more athletic than them and the dominant side even when we didn't have the ball."
Salford did not have the ball for most of the first half, as they had to defend their line for much of the first 40 minutes. It was a commentary on Widnes' lack of invention that they could only extract one try from that territorial advantage, scored from close range by David Mills, who carried four tacklers over the line after Widnes had taken a tap penalty.
Two goals from Jules O'Neil, against one for Salford from Joel Caine, made it a six-point gap at the break, but it was a very different game afterwards.
The first sign that something was going badly wrong for a Widnes side that simply did not look equipped to survive in Super League came when Stuart Littler sold a huge dummy to carve out an unhindered path to the try line.
A penalty from Caine, after Gavin Clinch was obstructed, put Salford ahead for the first time and a crucial score came when the newly-signed Australian second-rower, Mark Shipway, made a break down the right. The ball went to ground and, as Widnes hesitated, Clinch picked up to race over. Two more Caine goals tightened their grip and Widnes would have been buried without trace if Salford had not had two tries disallowed.
A lethargic Widnes had the ghost of a chance of a comeback when Adam Hughes' pass put Chris Giles over, but justice was done when the outstanding Andy Coley went over in the last minute.
The Widnes coach, Neil Kelly, admitted his side had been badly sub-standard. "We've been painted as relegation candidates and we fell very well into that role today," he said.
Harrison put it into context by insisting that his side had not even played particularly well. That underlines the scale of the problems that Widnes now face and, although Kelly hinted at changes in the team, he has limited room for manoeuvre with a very thin squad.
Salford: Flowers; Caine, Littler, Stewart, Kirk; Beverley, Clinch; Coley, Alker, Haggerty, Rutgerson, Shipway, Moana. Substitutes used: Fitzpatrick, Johnson, Charles, Highton.
Widnes: Atcheson; Robinson, Bird, Hughes, Giles; Jules O'Neill, Lawford; Relf, Millard, Julian O'Neill, McCurrie, Hay, Finnigan. Substitutes used: Rowlands, Wozniak, Hobson, Mills.
Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).