Match Report by RYAN GOULD, AJ Bell Stadium, Sunday
Wolfpack go down to honourable defeat
Despite playing for nearly an hour with twelve men, Salford Red Devils inflicted a first competitive defeat on Toronto Wolfpack in a feisty encounter as they progressed through to the fifth round of the Ladbroke’s Challenge Cup.
The Wolfpack have taken League 1 by storm so far in 2017 and, in doing so, have crossed for an impressive 310 points in five matches prior to this game. Although a mudbath at Siddal and a trip to Championship club London Broncos have posed sterner challenges in the earlier rounds of the cup, they passed both tests.
But this was the marker to show what Toronto are capable of. Facing a side near the summit of Super League who are playing some of their best rugby in years, could they pull off a shock? Ultimately, they came up short, but they showed that they would give plenty of sides in the top tier a run for their money.
With Toronto leading 16-12 on 27 minutes, Salford winger Justin Carney was shown a red card for dissent by referee Jack Smith and it looked as though that would provide the route for the Canadians to keep up their perfect start to the campaign.
However, the longer the match went on, the more Toronto tired. And, in truth, they never hit their stride or looked capable of going on to win after the dismissal.
Through the likes of Gareth O’Brien, Robert Lui and Michael Dobson, the experienced heads within the Salford camp marshalled the remainder of the tie superbly, despite being one man short, and it was in the game management area that the gulf between the sides stood out.
Salford made a couple of changes from their Easter Monday defeat at Catalans Dragons, as Todd Carney, Ryan Lannon and Junior Sa’u were replaced by Kriss Brining, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Josh Wood.
Toronto also made alterations to the side that thrashed North Wales Crusaders 80-0 in League 1 on Good Friday. Ryan Brierley made his debut at scrum-half after his transfer from Huddersfield Giants earlier in the week, while Jonny Pownall, Bob Beswick, Jake Emmitt and Andrew Dixon were all brought into the matchday 17.
The visitors started the better of the two teams and went close twice within the opening five minutes through Liam Kay. The winger was halted short of the line after collecting Blake Wallace’s kick to the corner and then had an effort ruled out as he was pushed into touch.
During their first decent spell of pressure, Salford opened the scoring when Kris Welham leaped highest to collect Dobson’s floating kick towards the posts to touch down.
Toronto responded immediately, however, with a quick-fire double. Paul Rowley’s men shifted the ball to the left wing through the hands of Bob Beswick and Greg Worthington for Kay to score in the corner, before Quentin Laulu-Togagae supported Worthington’s lovely break from within his own half to touch down underneath the sticks.
Again, though, the scores were level soon afterwards, as Kay dropped Dobson’s kick to the corner and the ball fell kindly for Greg Johnson, who cut inside for a simple score.
A key moment in the match followed next. After Brierley had broken a tackle and crossed for a try on debut, Justin Carney was sent off for dissent in what was likely to have been a dispute about the non-award of a penalty for an alleged off-the-ball tackle on Gareth O’Brien.
With a man advantage, the Wolfpack then went close to building on their advantage, as Salford did well to track back and hold Wallace up over the line, before the hosts took the lead for the second time when Johnson collected an excellent floating pass from Lui to score his second in the corner.
Toronto weren’t without further chances ahead of the interval, though, as Jonny Pownall had a try chalked off for stepping into touch before planting the ball down in the corner.
Early in the second-half, Salford extended their lead to six points when Josh Jones tipped back Lui’s lofted kick and Dobson gratefully collected to touch down in the left corner.
The visitors were then put on a team warning and were, perhaps, fortunate not to be reduced to twelve men for ten minutes when Johnson was tackled high as he looked to score in the corner.
Lama Tasi went close to extending Salford’s advantage, knocking on over the line, but the hosts did manage to cross soon after as O’Brien twisted out of the tackle to put the ball down on the line.
A field-goal from O’Brien secured the win late on, but Toronto did have the last word on the full-time hooter through Fuifui Moimoi, who collected Wallace’s offload to crash over next to the posts.
After hosting Leigh and travelling to Perpignan to face Catalans within the space of four days over Easter, Salford boss Ian Watson was delighted with his side’s display.
“We knew it was going to be a massive game on the back of a busy Easter period,” he said.
“In the first-half, they caused us a couple of problems but, defensively, it was a lot better in the second-half.
“I thought they did a good job; they came here and had a good dig. You should never underestimate a Paul Rowley team. The way he sets his team about is very meticulous. He will have structured his team really well. I would never have taken his team for granted.”
When asked about Justin Carney’s red card in his post-match press conference, Watson said: “I’m waiting to see the referee and want to speak to the guys involved before I can comment.”
Although pleased with the performance, Toronto head coach Paul Rowley felt that they “let Salford off the hook”.
“[The sending-off] probably wasn’t a good thing,” he said.
“I think it altered our mind sets. We stopped playing in the second-half.
“It was a game of two halves. We were good in the first, but it was probably the old head of Michael Dobson that won them the game in the second-half.
“I thought it was our game management that cost us. We are bold and brave and our decision to go away from doing that was disappointing.
“We’ll certainly learn and be better for it. This is a reminder of where we have to be at these standards, but we are devastated that we’re not in the next round because we felt that we let Salford off the hook.”
GAMESTAR: Although Salford’s pack had to work tirelessly when they were down to twelve men, Michael Dobson’s experience showed in the second-half as he managed the tie excellently from the halves.
GAMEBREAKER: Gareth O’Brien’s field-goal with 13 minutes left on the clock extended Salford’s lead to 13 points and took the match out of reach for the Wolfpack.
Salford Red Devils
1 Gareth O’Brien
21 Greg Johnson
3 Josh Jones
22 Kris Welham
2 Justin Carney
6 Robert Lui
7 Michael Dobson
23 Lee Mossop
19 Josh Wood
14 Lama Tasi
10 George Griffin
11 Ben Murdoch-Masila
13 Mark Flanagan
Subs (all used)
20 Kriss Brining
8 Craig Kopczak
16 Olsi Krasniqi
17 Adam Walne
Tries: Welham (12), Johnson (22, 35), Dobson (45), O’Brien (67)
Goals: Dobson (4/5)
Field-goal: O’Brien (77)
Red card: Carney (27 – dissent)
1 Quentin Laulu-Togagae
2 Jonny Pownall
3 Greg Worthington
4 Craig Hall
5 Liam Kay
6 Blake Wallace
27 Ryan Brierley
8 Fuifui Moimoi
9 Bob Beswick
29 Jake Emmitt
11 Andrew Dixon
12 James Laithwaite
13 Jack Bussey
Subs (all used)
7 Rhys Jacks
17 Richard Whiting
21 Adam Sidlow
25 Ryan Bailey
Tries: Kay (15), Togagae (17), Brierley (27), Moimoi (80)
Goals: Hall (3/4)
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match
Red Devils: Michael Dobson
Wolfpack: Greg Worthington
Penalty count: 11-7
Referee: Jack Smith
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 6-6, 6-12, 12-12, 12-16, 18-16; 22-16, 28-16, 29-16, 29-22
Air Transat 3 Stars
Images From The Match
This match report has been presented in association with the English weekly newspaper League Express.