Salford Red Devils defeated Leeds Rhinos 38-22 despite playing 60 minutes a man short.
They were reduced to 12 after the dismissal of Lee Mossop, but always managed to hold onto their lead to register a rare win ahead of the Qualifiers.
It was Leeds who scored the first points of the game, with Brad Dwyer diving over from close range within two minutes, but Salford were really bright after that and were fully rewarded with four tries in the space of ten minutes to open up a significant lead.
The first was scored by Ryan Lannon as he forced his way over off a short pass from Robert Lui, before new singing Jackson Hastings made a great break through the defence and found Niall Evalds in support to score.
Lui’s kick then deflected off two players with Hastings quickest to the ball to register a debut try, and good hands then led to Ed Chamberlain bursting through the line to run in for a fourth.
That hard work could all have been undone by Mossop’s alleged headbutt which earned him a red card, and straight from that the Rhinos reduced the arrears as Liam Sutcliffe went over.
Leeds applied pressure towards the end of the half, with Nathaniel Peteru twice held up over the line, but it was Salford who scored on the hooter through Robert Lui.
It took 15 minutes for the first points to come in the second half, as Leeds narrowed the gap to ten points with a Tom Briscoe try created by a Joel Moon break.
Chamberlain looked to land a penalty but missed, but a Leeds error straight afterwards put them in a great scoring position and Evalds broke through the defence for his second of the game.
Lui’s grubber kick was then taken by Josh Jones to wrap up the win, with Matt Parcell grabbing a consolation try five minutes from time.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Salford still alive
It’s been a miserable few months for the Red Devils, who had picked up just one win since April heading into this fixture.
While this match was in effect a dead rubber, they will take real confidence in the way they played, in the first half in particular, to blow Leeds away with a fast-paced game centred around new recruit Hastings.
If that wasn’t positive enough, the way that they dealt with being a man down for a majority of the game was hugely impressive too, and they will need every ounce of that fight in the tough Qualifiers campaign ahead.
Work for Sinfield to do
When Leeds’ fate was sealed last weekend many were quick to presume that the Qualifiers would be a walk in the park for the 2017 champions.
This result may suggest otherwise. While eyes may have been on next week’s Challenge Cup semi-final, this was a big opportunity to build on the win over Widnes but instead much of that hard work has been undone.
The Rhinos couldn’t cope with the intensity of Salford early on, and after the red card they had plenty of opportunities to score but struggled to do so. The line-up was a mixed bag but it’s not actually far off their best available team at the minute, so there will be plenty of reasons for director of rugby Kevin Sinfield to be worried.
Man of the Match – Jackson Hastings (Salford)
Hastings’ first appearance was certainly one to remember, and if he can continue this form he will be a hero amongst the fans in no time at all.
He scored a try and had a hand in a couple of others as well, but in his time on the field the way that he took responsibility and controlled the whole game was notable.
He was taken off in what was described as a precaution with a tight hamstring, and the Red Devils will certainly hope that he is ready for action in a fortnight’s time.
Salford Red Devils 38
Tries: Lannon, Evalds (2), Hastings, Chamberlain, Evalds, Jones
Goals: Chamberlain (5)
Drop Goals: n/a
Leeds Rhinos 22
Tries: Dwyer, Sutcliffe, T Briscoe, Parcell
Goals: Sutcliffe (3)
Drop Goals: n/a
Salford: Evalds; Bibby, Chamberlain, Sa’u, Olpherts; Lui, Hastings; Mossop, Wood, Murray; Jones, McCarthy, Lannon.
Interchanges: Bannion, Flanagan, Tasi, Nakubuwai.
Leeds: Golding; T Briscoe, Keinhorst, Handley, L Briscoe; Moon, Sutcliffe; Garbutt, Dwyer, Singleton; Ablett, Thompson, Smith.
Interchanges: Parcell, Peteru, Walters, Crosby.
Referee: Tom Grant