SALFORD Red Devils may well have finished the season in the bottom four, thanks to an RFL six-point deduction, but Gareth O’Brien wrote himself into the club’s history books with a golden point drop goal in extra time to relegate Hull KR.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Rovers led the Devils 18-10, and the Salford players looked resigned to their fate, until a lovely break down the wing from Hull FC bound Josh Griffin sent Niall Evalds in to score what looked like little more than a consolation try.
There were 53 seconds on the clock when Salford received the kick off, and they were four points down.
They couldn’t? Could they?
The answer was a resounding yes.
After a break down the middle, the ball was played out to the opposite wing, and Greg Johnson leveled the scores AFTER the final hooter had gone.
With Gareth O’Brien missing the conversion, Rovers kicked off extra time golden point, and after a couple of tackles, queue the man with the Million Pound drop goal.
From almost 50m out, O’Brien struck the sweetest kick of his career.
As it sailed over the Rovers posts, there were scenes of jubilation from the Salford players and staff, whilst the Hull players looked crestfallen.
They had been the better side for close to 80 minutes, but they switched off at the crucial moment and allowed Salford to nick the game from right under their noses.
Salford had started brightly, pinning the home side back in their own 40m area for the first set of six tackles, before playmaker Junior Sa’u took a tackle to the ribs that left him needing treatment.
This wasn’t to be the end of Salford’s injury woes, as just after Adam Walker opened the scoring for Hull KR, with Josh Mantellato adding the conversion, Sa’u was led from the field having taken another hit to the same area, this time, he wasn’t to return.
Mantellato was to be the next over the line as he dove in over the corner to score after a referral to the video referee, but was unable to convert from the touchline, and Salford were beginning to look fragile.
Salford were back in it after 25 minutes, when Ben Murdoch-Masila went over, and O’Brien missed the kick to make it 10-4.
Then, just after the half hour, Niall Evalds scored the first of his tries, and with the kick, the game was level at 10-10.
After a penalty for holding down, Hull opted to kick to make it 12-10 at the break.
After the break, Salford certainly looked the brighter in the opening five minutes, but it was to be the home side who extended their lead when Thomas Minns scored, and Mantellato converted to lead 18-10.
A wonder 40/20 kick from the mercurial Terry Campese seemed to take the fight out of the travelling fans and the Devils players with 15 minutes left on the clock.
However, it was to be the Devils’ day,
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) October 1, 2016
One of the vagaries of this sport means that players who are relegated with a club have their contracts voided, meaning that clubs can suddenly find that their playing staff are suddenly out of the door, and they have to start again.
This wasn’t just about staying up, this was about paying your mortgage…
The losing club also finds themselves bereft of close to £1m of central funding, in a sport where there is a £1.8m salary cap; that is a large drop in income.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the Salford coach, Ian Watson.
“We sent a call out with five minutes to go; we were under the pump defending our line but we told them to believe. Thankfully, it worked – and we survived.
“Today was glammed up like a Grand Final but it’s a real serious game. I do believe in promotion and relegation, I just don’t believe you should play off to decide relegation, you play off to win things.
“There’s a big sense of relief because we felt harshly done to by losing six points (for a salary-cap breach). I feel for Hull KR and what they are going to go through in the next couple of weeks.
“I feel pleased and proud of the boys. It will be a real sense of achievement when they look back.
“I’ve seen last-minute drop-goals before but never one like that. It was a massive play by Gaz O’Brien to be fair.
“He’s a tremendous kicker of the ball but I don’t think he’ll ever kick one like that again.”
The end of the game was marred by ugly scenes as fans from both clubs invaded the pitch before the extra time could get underway, and again as Salford clinched the win, with a minority fighting.
The RFL have rightly launched an investigation into this and released the following statement:
Following the result of the £1m game, in which Salford Red Devils retained their First Utility Super League status with a 18-19 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers, RFL Chief Executive, Nigel Wood, said: “We would like to offer our congratulations to Salford Red Devils on winning the £1m game and we look forward to watching them and newly promoted Leigh Centurions playing in the competition in 2017.
“We would also like to pay tribute to Hull Kingston Rovers, their Chairman, officials and fans for the dignified manner in which they accepted defeat. It is always an incredibly difficult time for any club, player, member of staff or fan when a team gets relegated and whilst the next few months will undoubtedly be difficult we are hopeful that they will rebuild and come back stronger next season.
“Whilst relegation and promotion remains a part of our competition, and we believe it should, there are always going to be winners and losers. It isn’t a nice situation, but it is the reality of sport and it is our job at the RFL to now make sure that the club, staff and players concerned are fully supported as best they can be.
“Games with so much at stake often mean emotions run high, but that does not excuse the minority of fans who behaved unacceptably following the final whistle. The RFL will conduct a full investigation into these incidents and will work with the police and club involved to ensure anyone found to have acted violently is dealt with appropriately and also banned with immediate effect.”
If Carlsberg did seasons……. #MillionPoundGame
— Karen Horton (@Hullass1972) October 1, 2016
Salford were earlier this week found guilty by the RFL of failing to control their fans in a game at Huddersfield earlier this season, and were fined £6000, with £3000 suspended.
Salford: Gareth O’Brien, Greg Johnson, Josh Jones, Junior Sa’u, Josh Griffin, Robert Lui, Michael Dobson, Luke Burgess, Logan Tomkins, George Griffin, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Weller Hauraki, Mark Flanagan.
Replacements: Kopczak, Krasniqi, Evalds, Kenny.
|Hull KR (10) 18|
|Tries: Walker, Mantellato, Minns Goal: Mantellato 3|
|Salford (10) 19|
|Try: Murdoch-Masila, Evalds 2, Johnson Goal: O’Brien Drop-goal: O’Brien|
By Andrew Riley