Salford run in eight tries at Castleford to secure Super League playoff spot

Maybe 2019 wasn’t a one-off after all. The starring cast may have changed, but this latest chapter of the Salford Red Devils story has so many of the same narratives as the one three years ago, when one of Super League’s lowest-spending clubs reached the Grand Final against all the odds.

So much has changed since that day. The coach who masterminded that journey to Old Trafford, Ian Watson, left for Huddersfield. The mercurial half-back at the heart of their on-field success, Jackson Hastings, signed for Wigan before returning to Australia.

But now, under the guidance of another English coach in Paul Rowley who believes in attractive play, Salford will once again be in the playoffs after this emphatic victory against Castleford secured their place in the top six.

Like three years ago, they have done it with Super League’s lowest playing budget. “If we could have had a crystal ball, the playoffs would have been magnificent for us,” Rowley said. “But we’re not happy with just that, that’s for sure. We are not ready to finish just yet. Everyone knows we spend the least, but we attempt to underpromise and overdeliver.”

The Australian whose individual brilliance is inspiring this year’s Salford is Brodie Croft. The 25-year-old had a chastening breakthrough in the National Rugby League, struggling to make his mark at Brisbane as a promising teenager. How he has adjusted to Super League, though, with this display a fine example of the play he has delivered throughout this season.

Croft was instrumental in putting Salford into a 20-0 lead following an opening quarter of near-perfect standard. His break led to his half‑back partner Marc Sneyd crossing, before Croft then started another Red Devils move which was finished by Ken Sio. Sneyd added a penalty before Jack Ormondroyd broke free for their third try. Even at such an early stage, you feared the worst for an injury-hit Castleford side.

The Tigers finished without a recognised half-back here after a serious injury to Danny Richardson, and – after Leeds’s 32-18 defeat at Catalans on Monday evening – they now face a winner-takes-all-clash with the Rhinos on Saturday for the final playoff place. They responded as half-time approached with tries from Jake Mamo and Derrell Olpherts but their coach, Lee Radford, said: “The gulf in quality between the two sides early on was evident to see. We were busted and broke and we’re limping into games.”

That fatigue running throughout Castleford’s squad, coupled with the attacking prowess of Salford here, meant there was only likely to be one outcome. The Red Devils were outstanding in the second half, as was Croft. Shane Wright finished a Kallum Watkins break before Deon Cross’s try put the result beyond doubt. Croft then scored the try his individual display merited before Watkins followed suit, and Sneyd rounded off the scoring in the final minute with his second try.

Nobody thought Salford could reach Old Trafford three years ago. Fast-forward to the present day, and the odds are once again shortening on a proud club built on spirit, not endless bundles of cash, gatecrashing the party once again.