In what had widely been dubbed the play off for the play offs, the Salford Red Devils welcomed the Warrington Wolves to the AJ Bell Stadium for a showdown match which would determine whether the fight for the top six would go on for at least another round, or whether the home side would all but mathematically bow out at this stage.
A win for the Red Devils would put them level on points with sixth placed Warrington, and a win by forty-five points or more would lift them above their opponents and into sixth spot with two round remaining. On the other hand, if the Wolves were to take the points, then they would join Hull KR four points clear of the seventh placed Salford and with them both having a far superior points difference it was effectively over for the Red Devils.
The bookies were struggling to pick a favourite but erred on the side of the visitors, but by a very narrow margin.
Just two minutes out from the first whistle, Joe Burgess spilled an innocuous looking chip from Josh Drinkwater and Matty Nicholson was on hand to pick up the loose ball and walk over the line for a simple try. Stefan Ratchford added an easy conversion for the best possible start from the Wolves.
On six minutes the Red Devils looked like they had equalised but after video scrutiny the try was ruled out after Brodie Croft was ruled to have regained his feet and played on after he had been tackled.
The Wolves were starting to get on a roll when on fourteen Paul Vaughan stretched for the line, but he lost the ball in the act of grounding.
On twenty-two the Red Devils did get themselves back on level terms, Ben Hellewell crashing through the Wolves line and crossing by the sticks. Marc Sneyd added the conversion and at the quarter game stage the sides were tied up.
Salford edged in front on thirty after an awful Warrington error inside their own twenty. Stefan Ratchford lost the ball on the carry with the loose ball being picked up by Atkin and floated down the right wide with Brodie Croft on hand to run into space and score. Sneyd added the touchline conversion, the Red Devils 12-6 ahead.
Thirty second of the half remained when Josh Thewlis did brilliantly to chase down a Matt Dufty kick to the corner but after sending the decision upstairs as a TRY the video referee spotted a toe in touch and chalked off the four pointer. Salford with a six-point lead at the break.
On forty-four it was Salford’s turn to make a defensive mistake as Ken Sio spilled a high kick, the loose ball being picked up by Ben Currie to score in the corner. Ratchford added the conversion from wide and the sides were again all-square.
A Ratchford penalty goal on fifty-four regained the lead for the Wolves as he slotted it over from forty metres out.
Brodie Croft sent the Red Devils fans into a frenzy on sixty-five as he collected his own rebounded dink kick through to round a Wolves tackler and score under the sticks. Sneyd added the conversion, and the play off race was still alive.
Warrington weren’t going to give it up easily. On sixty-nine they kept the ball alive through fast hands and offloads with George Williams taking the final pass and grounding on the line under the sticks. Ratchford added the extras, Warrington back with their noses in front.
Warrington were offside in front of their own posts on seventy-five when Gil Dudson collected a ricocheted attempted interception. Sneyd slotted over a simple kick to again level the scores, with four minutes left there was nothing between the two sides.
Salford forced a goal line drop out on seventy-seven with relentless defence, and after attempting a short kick off, Dufty knocked on and gifted Salford a scrum.
Singleton had a brain explosion as he stood to play the ball, pushing his marker over and conceding the penalty when the try line beckoned with tackles in the bag. The hooter sounded and the game entered golden point drama.
One minute into golden point, Marc Sneyd attempted a drop goal, but the ball went left and hit the post, bouncing back into the field of play. With two minutes remaining Burgess broke the Warrington line and passed inside to Sam Stone to outpace the Wolves defence and dive over for the most crucial of wins.
Salford’s season is still alive after looking as though it was over on several occasions during an eventful eighty-three minutes at the AJ Bell Stadium. When Burgess went down the left win and found Stone in support the stands went crazy as Salford sealed the two points and drew level with sixth placed Warrington with two games of the season remaining. There is still masses for these two sides to do to make the play-off but the momentum is now with Salford, Warrington looking shattered at the end of a draining season.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley, Sio, Cross, Lafai, Burgess, Croft (2T), Sneyd (4G), Singleton, Ackers, Ormondroyd, Hellewell (T), Stone (T), Atkin. Subs: Vuniyayawa, Dixon, Addy, Bourouh. 18th Man: Costello.
Warrington Wolves: Dufty, Thewlis, Mata’utia, Ratchford (4G), Ashton, Williams (T), Drinkwater, Mikaele. Walker, Vaughan, Currie (T), Nicholson (T), Harrison. Subs: Clarke, Kasiano, Dudson, Crowther. 18th Man: Wrench.
Full-Time: 20-20. Golden Point: 24-20.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-6, 10-6, 12-6 : HT: 12-10, 12-12, 12-14, 16-14, 18-14, 18-18, 18-20, 20-20 :FT: 24-20 :GP.
Lead Exchanges: Warrington – Square – Salford – Square – Warrington – Salford – Square – Warrington – Square - Salford.
Referee: Liam Moore.