Hunte propels Reds back into top flight

Salford 31 Leigh 14
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The Independent Online

Salford are back in Super League after a year in exile, although they were pushed harder than yesterday's scoreline shows by a Leigh side chasing their own elusive dream of promotion.

Two tries from the 33-year-old former Great Britain player, Alan Hunte, helped ensure Salford were always in front in their National League One Grand Final at Widnes, but he is not part of the club's playing plans for next season.

"I don't think he could play Super League next season, but he will be on the coaching staff," said Salford's head coach, Karl Harrison. "We will need five or six new players, but, from a year ago, this is a great turnaround for the club."

The first half was a case of Salford's polish against Leigh's spirit and aggression and for the first half-hour it looked as though the Reds' slick rugby would dominate. They took the lead after two minutes when Leroy Rivett was too casual in pursuing Gavin Clinch's kick and Hunte reached around his body to touchdown.

Chris Charles kicked the conversion and two penalties, both of them forced by unexpected turnovers of possession from a scrum, one against the feed and one from Clinch's party trick of stealing the ball.

When Clinch made the break to send Cliff Beverley racing away for another converted try, it seemed that Salford were running away with it, but Leigh dug deep in the minutes before half time to score two tries that threw the game open.

The player-coach, Tommy Martyn, took John Duffy's pass and although Jason Flowers knocked the ball out of his hands as he crossed the tryline, Sean Richardson was there to touchdown. Then Neil Turley got a remarkable pass away for Danny Halliwell to score, with Turley putting over the conversion from the touchline.

Salford were under pressure, but they edged further ahead through Charles's penalty before Hunte produced a brilliant catch from Clinch's kick to force the ball down just inside the corner post.

Steve Blakeley's drop goal and another penalty helped Salford pull away, but Willie Swann's try brought Leigh back within sight until Stuart Littler picked up Rivett's wild pass to make sure.

"Salford showed a lot more discipline than us and looked like a Super League side,'' said the Leigh coach, Alex Murphy. "But we'll be back and we'll be a better side next season."

Leigh: Turley; Munro, Hadcroft, Halliwell, Rivett; Duffy, Martyn; Nickle, Weisner, Norman, Richardson, Swann, Bristow. Substitutes used: Bradbury, Sanderson, Henare, Bibey.

Salford: Flowers; Arnold, Littler, Hunte, Kirk; Beverley, Clinch; Baynes, Alker, Coley, Baldwin, P Highton, Charles. Substitutes used: Blakeley, D Highton, Moana, Haggerty.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).

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