Rugby League: Salford spirit is not enough

Salford Reds 30 Leeds Rhinos 38
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The Independent Online
A LATE flurry of points against Leeds, who were still not in top gear after Wembley and clearly feeling that they had done enough, could not disguise the message that Andy Gregory's successor as Salford coach has an enormous amount of work to do on their feeble defence.

Woeful tackling had already lost them this match before four tries in the final quarter made it look far closer than it was.

Ironically, in view of Gregory's parting shot at referees in general and Steve Presley in particular, Salford owed their opening try to a highly dubious penalty in their favour for ball- stealing. From that possession Steve Blakeley dummied over and also added the goal.

That bright opening was soon eclipsed by Salford's chronic fallibility in defence, with Leeds running in three tries in 10 minutes, all of them due in large part to poor tackling.

First Terry Newton slipped through and put Ryan Sheridan in, then Sheridan set up Anthony Farrell for an equally facile try. Iestyn Harris, on the field as a substitute, combined with Adrian Morley for Marcus St Hilaire to cross and, with a goal apiece from Francis Cummins and Harris, Leeds were 10 points ahead without striking anything like their best form.

A lack of both technique and commitment near their own line found Salford out again in an abject eight-minute spell at the start of the second half.

St Hilaire claimed his second try from Sheridan's pass before Andy Hay sent Cummins through some equally paper- thin resistance.

The difference in sheer physical strength between the two sides was all too apparent when Darren Fleary got over the line, despite four Salford tacklers clinging to his back. When Cummins sliced through for his second, the unsuccessful Salford tacklers were left sitting on the ground with an air of resignation.

That made what happened next all the more unexpected. There was the first hint of defiance when Craig Makin went over from Blakeley's pass and, soon after, Bobby Thomson's break gave Mark Johnson the 100th try of his career.

His 101st soon followed, thanks to Thomson's run and Carl Briggs' long pass. Four minutes from time - just too late to put any real pressure on Leeds - Blakeley's run released Hudson Smith. It had been an encouraging gesture, but not one what wins matches unless the basics are in place.

"There's some light at the end of the tunnel. The lads came off buzzing," said the Salford caretaker-coach, John Foran. But the hard statistical fact is that Salford's 10 defeats from the start of the season equals the worst-ever in Super League and leaves them firmly in the relegation slot.

Salford Reds: Thompson, Martin, Littler, Carige, Johnson, Blakeley, Crompton, Makin, Alker, Southern, Smith, Bradbury, Highton. Substitutes used: Briggs, E Faimalo, J Faimalo, Baynes.

Leeds Rhinos: St Hilaire, Rivett, Golden, Godden, Cummins, Powell, Sheridan, McDermott, Newton, Ward, Morley, Farrell, Hay. Substitutes used: Sterling, Harris, Fleary, Jones-Buchanan.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).