The Super Eights Qualifiers were occupying centre stage in the final weekend of the competition with everything on the line for six sides, all of whom were seeking the guarantee of Super League football in 2019, but all of whom could slip into the Million Pound Game or in five cases, finish the season in sixth place.
With four games over four days the picture would gradually become clearer as the permutations reduced. The opening game of the weekend was the Salford Red Devils hosting Toulouse Olympique XIII at the AJ Bell Stadium. A win for the Red Devils would guarantee them safety, but a win for Toulouse could spell disaster for Salford and propel Toulouse into the crucial top three positions. It promised to be a nervous night at the start of a nail biting weekend.
Salford had the best of the early play, penning Toulouse inside their own half, and on thirteen minutes Jackson Hastings was lifted over the line by Mark Kheirallah in the tackle but grounded over the line. The referee sent the decision to the video referee who ruled that he’d been put in a dangerous position as he scored and he awarded an eight point try. Hastings added the extras on both occasions for an 8-0 lead.
The second Salford try came on twenty-five Joey Lussick juggled the ball, stepped out of a tackle, and went over under a pile of Toulouse players to ground. Hastings was unable to add the conversion, crashing the ball into the upright, but Salford were 12-0 ahead.
When Toulouse interfered at the play the ball Hastings kicked a thirty metre penalty to extend the Red Devils lead on thirty-three.
Toulouse opened their account five minutes before the break when Chris Centrone found space on the overlap as the visitors gave the ball plenty of air down the left hand side. Kheirallah was unable to add the conversion from close to the touchline and Toulouse went into the interval ten points behind.
After Salford made a real mess of fielding the second half kick-off, Toulouse worked the ball back to the Salford line and Stan Robin chased a Kheirallah grubber to pick it up on the line and ground by the left upright. Kheirallah added the conversion for 10-14 and it was game back on.
Lussick had a try ruled out by the video referee on fifty-three but Salford were awarded a penalty for offside and Hastings kicked the goal for a six point lead.
On fifty-eight the Red Devils had breathing space as Greg Johnson used the overlap wide right to cross by the corner flag off a Niall Evalds pass and round towards the sticks to improve the angle. Hastings added the crucial conversion and Salford were 22-10 ahead.
With Toulouse pushing their luck in the Devils twenty they spilled the ball and Salford used their six to work the ball all the way downfield with Evalds being on hand to go in for the fourth of the night. Hastings added the conversion and at 28-10 it looked like Toulouse’s season was drawing to a close.
Within a minute Derrell Olpherts went over on the opposite wing after a Hastings high kick was tapped back and Toulouse were caught short wide. Hastings kicked his seventh conversion of the night for 34-10.
A try for Welham, again in the corner against a tiring defence, rubbed salt into the wound as Salford further extended their lead. Luke Burgess took over the kicking duties and nailed it from the touchline for 40-10.
Tyrone McCarthy scored Salford’s seventh try of the night picking up a gentle grubber to walk over the line. Burgess hit the near upright with his second conversion attempt but the home side had a comfortable 44-10 win.
This was a professional and workmanlike Salford performance in avoiding the potential Toulouse banana skin. The win makes Salford mathematically safe and means that they are the first side to guarantee top flight rugby in 2019. Toulouse drop to sixth on points difference and will need a miracle on Saturday night with winless Halifax beating the London Broncos by more than twenty-four points for them to make the Million Pound Game on points difference.
Red Devils: Evalds (T), Johnson (T), Bibby, Welham (T), Olpherts (T), Lui, Hastings (T, 7G), Mossop, Lussick (T), Burgess (G), Jones, McCarthy (T), Flanagan. Subs: Kopczak, Griffin, Lannon, Burke.
Toulouse: Kheirallah (G), Marcon, Marguerite, Ader, Centrone (T), Ford, Robin (T), Bretherton, Barthau, Puech, Mika, Curran, Marion. Subs: Planas, Boyer, Hepi, Kriouache.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Half-Time: 14-4 .
Full-Time: 44-10 .