Superb Salford one win away from Old Trafford after classy win over Castleford
Unfancied Salford are just 80 minutes from a maiden Grand Final after squeezing the life out of Castleford in the Super League elimination semi-final.
The Red Devils, operating on one of the lowest budgets in Super League, were widely expected to be involved in the relegation fight in 2019 but will now take on St Helens or Wigan in next Friday’s eliminator for a trip to Old Trafford.
Half-back Jackson Hastings, loose forward Tyrone McCarthy and centre Jake Bibby scored tries in Salford’s 22-0 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium that emphatically ended Castleford’s bid to win the title from fifth place.
Any question marks over the mental strength of Ian Watson’s men after their eight-match winning run was ended at Wigan a week ago were answered in emphatic fashion as they produced a near-perfect first half to lay the platform for an outstanding victory.
Salford snuffed out the threat of playmaker Jake Trueman and their half-backs terrorised the Castleford back three with their clever kicking game which enabled them to play on the front foot for most of the first half.
McCarthy opened the scoring on 11 minutes by winning the race to stand-off Tui Lolohea’s grubber kick and two minutes later the Wigan-bound Bibby forced his way over at the corner for a contentious try.
There seemed some doubt over whether Bibby grounded the ball but not enough for video referee Robert Hicks to overturn Ben Thaler’s onfield call and Krisnan Inu added to the Tigers’ agony by kicking the touchline conversion to make it 12-0.
The visitors could barely get out of their own half and when they did through full-back Jordan Rankin’s incisive break Salford number one Niall Evalds hauled him down short of the line with a magnificent cover tackle.
Inu stretched his side’s lead to 14-0 with a penalty 10 minutes before the break and Salford were forced to demonstrate their defensive mettle as the Tigers came out with more purpose at the start of the second half.
The Red Devils’ defensive efforts were led by second rower George Griffin, who will be a Castleford player in 2020, as they tightened the grip on the game.
The harder the Tigers tried, the worse they got, and they were finally put out of their misery when Hastings, playing his final home game as he prepares to join Wigan, glided over for Salford’s third try nine minutes before the end.
Inu added a last-minute penalty to maintain his 100 per cent record with his fifth goal to wrap up the scoring and send the home fans into raptures.