How Hard Have Salford Hopes Been Hit?
It’s been a fantastic season for Salford Red Devils. Here’s a club that was within minutes of relegation in last season’s Million Pound Game and which, less than a year later, finds itself in the top three of Super League and looking forward to a Challenge Cup semi-final against a Wigan side that looks less like a Wigan side than it does an under 12s netball team.
And yet. And yet they are still not assured of a semi-final spot. Last week’s barely comprehensible defeat at St Helens will have taken a real psychological toll on Ian Watson’s side and they must respond this week at home to a fast improving, Super 8 seeking Huddersfield Giants outfit. The Red Devils were coasting at 24-8 up against Saints with just 12 minutes remaining when they contrived to leak three tries and then, for an encore, Robert Lui chipped through in the dying seconds only to find Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook who flicked the ball back to former Salford man Matty Smith to do the rest with a drop-goal from 40 metres. The ultimate burst balloon for fans of the AJ Bell Stadium side.
But if they can recover they have much still to play for. Even that defeat leaves them five points better off at this stage than the likes of Saints, and within a point of second place which is currently occupied by Hull FC. Lee Radford’s side go to Castleford this weekend so there is every chance that Salford could again be the Tigers’ nearest challengers by the end of the weekend.
The Giants have spent most of their 2017 looking like Middle 8 certainties but could yet make it into the top six before the end of the regular season. They are unbeaten since the end of May when they were edged out 28-26 by Wakefield, since when they have conquered all of Warrington, Catalans and Saints and fought out a second draw of the season with Wigan. They will no doubt relish the opportunity to rub salt in Salford’s Saints-inflicted wound but will again be without influential fullback Jake Mamo due to a foot injury.
Wigan Couldn’t Miss The Super 8s, Could They?
In two words, probably not. Yet Shaun Wane’s side are on the very edge at present, sitting in eighth spot and with only a three-point cushion over ninth-placed Warrington. Still there is a solid argument that three points over Warrington might as well be 300 given their wretched form in 2017. Regardless, the nagging feeling remains that Wigan will mount a late season charge not only to secure their top eight status but to try and crash the top four party. They are seven points off that right now and so have little margin for error.
Which is why a win in this week’s visit from Widnes Vikings is an absolute must for the Warriors. This is the fixture which was switched from the DW Stadium to Widnes’ Select Security Stadium in quite scandalous circumstances in February. The Warriors were recently reprimanded and ordered to pay costs for calling off that game without consulting the Vikings, who then agreed to host it so that it could go ahead that day. That worked out well for the Warriors, who won 28-26. They’ll be heavy favourites to complete a double over Denis Betts’ side in this one, with the Vikings currently languishing one place off the bottom of Super League despite a solid 36-10 victory over Leigh Centurions last time out.
Yet Wigan’s own form has been dreadful this year. Last week’s 19-19 draw with Huddersfield saw their winless streak stretch to eight games, their longest spell without a win in the league for over 100 years. Who says it has been a bad season? And still, it’s Widnes. If Wigan are going to bring an end to their miserable run and really kick-start a bid for playoff contention they need to start immediately with victory in this one. They probably will.