Rugby League: Salford promoted to Super League

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The Independent Online
Salford 21 Keighley 4

Salford duly collected the First Division Championship Trophy and the place in Super League next season that goes with it, but were in danger of having their party spoiled at the Willows yesterday.

Although they eventually beat the one side that could have overtaken them by a clear-cut margin, it could have been very different if Keighley had taken more of their chances.

Salford never found it easy to carve out openings, but they managed to take an early lead with a try from Darren Rogers and a drop-goal from the boot of Mark Lee. Their Samoan winger Fata Sini then went 70 yards for the first of his two, and Salford's biggest league crowd of the season settled back to watch their heroes coast home.

Instead, Keighley twice went close to tries before half-time - the former Salford winger Jason Critchley having one disallowed for a forward pass and Sonny Whakarau being stopped short.

Immediately after the break, it was only Steve Hampson's saving tackle that knocked the ball out of Wayne Race's grasp, but Keighley finally got on the scoreboard with a try by Mark Milner from Phil Cantillon's break.

Suitably chastened, Salford put together their best handling of the afternoon for Paul Forber to score a try that Blakeley improved, but Critchley squandered another Keighley chance from Chris Robinson's kick and Jon Wray also went close before Sini made the title secure.

"We played as well as Keighley let us," Andy Gregory, the Salford coach, said. "They had pushed us very hard for two seasons and they had a score to settle." Gregory revealed that sev- eral team members, including Blakeley and Lee, defied injury to play. "There's no champagne down there, but a lot of ice," he said of the dressing- room.

"As a team this is the best we've had at Salford," John Wilkinson, the club's chairman, said. "We want to be part of Super League and there is no way we're going to waste this opportunity now."

Gregory and Wilkinson know that they will have to strengthen the side for next season. Indeed, it must be a matter of some concern that their best two players yesterday, Hampson and Sam Panapa, are both veterans coming to the end of their careers.

The bright note is that there is much young talent at the Willows, with the Salford Academy side also receiving the First Division Trophy yesterday, to demonstrate that the basis of a strong club has been established.

Salford: Hampson; Sini, Naylor, McAvoy, Rogers; Blakeley, Lee; Blese, Edwards, Eccles, Forber, Savelio, Panapa. Substitutes used: Mansson, Martin, Burgess, Randall.

Keighley: Dixon; Race, Milner, King, Critchley; Powell, Robinson; Parsons, Cantillon, Hall, Fleary, Whakarau, Wood. Substitutes used: Wray, Larder, Berry. Substitute not used: Cochrane.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).