While neither the Wigan Warriors nor the Salford Red Devils would be eliminated from the competition as a result of tonights game, a victory would give a massive confidence boost ahead of next weeks semi-final against St Helens for a place in the final.
Salford have exceeded most expectations in 2019 and thoroughly deserve their third placed finish. After an awful start to the season, Adrian Lam’s Wigan have performed brilliantly to secure second spot.
The Red Devils are unbeaten in their last eight but have only won once in their last twenty-one visits to the DW Stadium. Salford have lost all three meetings against the Warriors in 2019 but the first two by less than ten points. The home side were clear favourites, but the play-offs have warned us to expect the unexpected.
Despite all the early pressure being on the Warriors line it was Zak Hardaker who had the first opportunity to open the scoring but he skewed his penalty kick wide from just twenty-five metres out.
The visitors were giving as good as they were getting, the usual Wigan flamboyance being stifled by a strong Salford defence. It was an entertaininy stalemate between two evenly matched sides.
Oliver Gildart opened the scoring off a George Williams pass as the Red Devils finally cracked after twenty-three minutes. Williams had attracted the defenders before putting Gildart through a gap, wrongfooting the Salford defenders. Hardaker kicked the touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The floodgates, however, remained shut.
Salford should have levelled on thirty-two but three players failed to ground a grubber kick as it bounced through the Wigan goal area.
On thirty-six Joey Lussick pushed his way over the line under a pile of Wigan players and forced the ball onto the ground. Referee Hicks sent the decision upstairs as a ‘NO TRY’ and there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that it was grounded on or over the line.
Two plays later George Griffin finally opened the Salford account as he crashed over from fove metres, taking the ball at first reeiver. Krisnan Inu added the conversion to send the sides into the sheds all square at 6-6, it was no more, or less, than Salford deserved.
Salford came out after the interval with all guns blazing. Ken Sio seemed to have given Salford the lead on fifty minutes as he flew over in the right corner but the video slow motion showed he was grounded in touch a split second before scoring, thanks to a terrific defensive effort from Oliver Gildart.
An awful offload from Inu, inside his own ten metres, saw the ball go free and bounce into the Salford goal area where Tommy Leuluai was the first to react and ground the ball. Hardaker added the conversion to re-establish the six point lead for the Warriors.
A Joe Burgess break down the left wing enabled him to avoid a tackle and find George Williams in support to run to the line and complete a seventy metre try. Hardaker was again accurate with the boot and with the hour approaching it was 18-6 to the Warriors.
On sixty-one Jackson Hastings gave the Red Devils renewed hope jinking his way to the line from twenty-metres out through a broken Wigan defence. Inu added the conversion for 12-18.
Salford, growing in confidence, laid seige to the Wigan line but couldn’t get over and as the clock ticked over to eighty minutes the home side managed to hold on for the six point victory.
It’s the original derby next weekend was St Helens host the Warriors for the first place in the 2019 Grand Final. Wigan had to defend for their lives against a Salford side who may still make it to Old Trafford. Their next outing is against the Castleford Tigers at the AJ Bell Stadium next week, the winner of that one going into the second semi-final. Wigan will be hoping that they won’t have to battle the Devils again in a fortnights time.
Warriors: Hardaker (3G), Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart (T), Burgess, Williams (T), Leuluai (T), Clubb, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Flower, Greenwood, French, O’Loughlin.
Red Devils: Evalds, Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu (2G), Lolohea, Hastings (T), Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin (T), McCarthy. Subs: Lussick, Walker, Flanagan, Lannon.
Referee: Rob Hicks.