The Salford Red Devils find themselves at the wrong end of the early 2020 table as they sit off the pace on ninth spot, but they came up against a Leeds Rhinos side who were low on confidence after two successive big losses at the hands of Wigan and St Helens.
There was little to choose between the two sides, the bookies giving the Red Devils a two point start on the coupon and only slightly favouring the sixth placed Rhinos who had their eyes on a top four spot.
The Rhinos beat the Red Devils by 22-8 before lockdown, despite Salford being 8-6 ahead at the interval, but that was now over five months ago.
Salford lost Ken Sio as early as the fourth minute was he appeared to twist a knee when putting in a kick.
Leeds took just under ten minutes to hit the front with Ash Handley taking a Liam Sutcliffe pass to walk in by the left corner flag for an all too simple try. Rhyse Martin was well wide with his conversion attempt as Sio was finally helped down the tunnel.
Leeds second came on fourteen after Luke Gale high kick was knocked back by Sutcliffe into the hands of Richie Myler who made no mistake in grounding over the line. Martin added the conversion for 10-0.
On sixteen Luke Gale found a massive gap to go through the Red Devils defence after Robert Lui did all the work with his footwork. The try was under the H’s and Martin added the conversion for 16-0. It was the start that the Rhinos would have dreamed of.
A superb tackle by Lui on Chris Atkin, on a rare Red Devils attack, denied the half-back who had been brough on in the wing position in a reshuffle after the loss of Sio. On twenty-eight Myler got his second after he collected a pinpoint grubber from Handley to dive over. Martin added another goal for 22-0, the Rhinos seemingly scoring at will.
On thirty-one Handley rose above the Red Devils defence to collect a Gale high kick to the corner. Taking the ball cleanly he dropped to the ground over the line for his second of the half. Martin was unable to goal from wide, Salford looking shell-shocked.
Salford ended the half on the attack but the Rhinos defence held strong, the culmination of a near perfect half for Richard Agar’s men.
Salford lost Chris Aitkin and Leeds lost Adam Cuthbertson within the opening couple of minutes of the second half. On forty-seven Niall Evalds scored Salford’s first points collecting his own kick through after it took a generous bounce. Tui Lolohea added the extra two for 6-26.
Evalds grabbed his second on fifty-two collecting a Kevin Brown chip over the Leeds defence to score under the sticks. Lolohea added the conversion and the Red Devils were back within fourteen.
After a scare from the Salford fightback Robert Lui burrowed over the line as he scooted from acting half-back to get the ball down on the line. Martin added the extras to give the Rhinos a twenty point lead.
A walk-in try for Mikolaj Oledzki further extended the Leeds lead after he took a Myler pass and abttered away two attempted tackles before scoring under the sticks. Martin kicked the conversion and the small Salford revival blip had passed.
Richie Myler chased down his own hack through on seventy-four and grounded the ball in full flight for his hat-trick. Martin added the conversion once again for 44-12.
Ash Handley completed his hat-trick on seventy-six after poor Salford kick went to Rhinos hands ten metres from their own try line. Handley easily outpaced the cover tacklers to go ninety metres to score and when Martin added the goal the Rhinos had the half-century at 50-12.
With the exception of a small scare at the start of the second half, when the Red Devils scored twice through Evalds, the Rhinos were in almost total control of the game. Salford can be forgiven for being a little rusty after being forced back into self-isolation after exposure to a Hull FC side carrying coronavirus. Salford will need to put this behind them as the game that blew off the cobwebs once again, while the Rhinos will head into fourth spot.
Rhinos: Myler (3T), Briscoe T, Sutcliffe L, Newman, Handley (3T), Gale (T), Lui (T), Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki (T), Thompson, Martin (7G), Prior. Subs: Sutcliffe A, Cuthbertson, Dwyer, Holroyd.
Red Devils: Evalds (3T), Sio, Welham, Kear, Williams, Lolohea (2G), Brown, Ikahihifo, Lussick, Dudson, Lannon, McCarthy, Yates. Subs: Pauli, Johnson, Flanagan, Atkin.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Ground: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington.