AS the dust settled on one of the most dramatic endings to a game in rugby league history, a quote from Gladiator sprang to mind.
In that movie, having overcome his rival to the death in the Roman Coliseum, Russell Crowe’s titular Maximus character bellows to the cheering crowds: “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
The ‘Million Pound Game’ had similar echoes; it was brutal, enthralling, in fact, but, as stunned Hull KR were relegated – despite leading 18-10 with just 96 seconds remaining – it remains to be seen whether or not anyone actually enjoyed the spectacle.
Even for the neutral, it was hard to stomach seeing ruined players (and staff) suffer in such a manner as the realisation of what this result meant hit home.
Of course, relegation should exist in rugby league – it has to to allow aspiring clubs to be promoted. But, as victorious Salford coach Ian Watson said before and after Saturday’s chaotic events – Gareth O’Brien won it with a remarkable 47m drop goal in the first set of ‘Golden Point’ extra-time – there should be no need to “glam” it up like this into a play-off to decide a club’s fate. There must be a less contrived way.
With £1m less central funding in 2017, it seems certain there will be significant cuts at the East Yorkshire club as their 10-year stay among the elite expires.
Centre Thomas Minns thought he had secured survival when his 57th-minute try – a 10th during eight Qualifiers games and 20th of the campaign – was converted by Josh Mantellato.
Rovers rarely looked threatened in the final quarter but their desperate opponents finally found some space for Josh Griffin – the Hull FC-bound centre – to flick a pass to replacement winger Niall Evalds to score his second try in the 79th minute.
Then, Griffin escaped again and, though Minns dragged Evalds down, the ball was moved wide to the right where, with the hooter having already sounded, Greg Johnson touched down.
O’Brien’s touchline conversion attempt went wide but the full-back was not denied with his monstrous one-pointer when Salford won the toss – yes, the toss of a coin – and accepted the kick-off in extra-time.
Minns, 22, told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m heartbroken. We didn’t see it coming, not at all. But it came down to fatigue and just a bit of mis-communication.
“Maybe when I tackled Evalds on the 20 I should’ve just conceded a penalty – but so much is going on in your head…”
Just 12 months into a three-year deal, he knows all about the second-tier, having played with Featherstone on a season-long loan from Leeds Rhinos last year.
Minns has impressed and Rovers will do all they can to keep him. But the inconsolable player, relegated while on a season-long loan at London Broncos two years ago, admitted: “I don’t have a clue what happens next. We haven’t been told much, just that they (the club) will be in touch but that could be about anything.
“It’s a team sport and I’d swap all of those 20 to stay in Super League. I’ve worked so hard to get here. I’ve had a year in the Championship, got released by hometown club Leeds, and overcome a lot of adversity.
“I’ve had a lot thrown at me this year with having a son – Teddy – at such a young age but he’s my inspiration, the reason I get out of bed. He’s only five months old and lives in Salford – I can drive 200 miles some days – but it’ll do me the world of good spending the next couple of weeks with him. It might sort my head. I know I need to get something sorted; I’ve got to provide for him.
“But I’m devastated for the supporters. They show up week in, week out in their thousands. When we went back on the pitch 30 minutes after the end they were still clapping us.
“I was at London when they got relegated but they didn’t have any fans. Look at this here…
“How many do Salford bring? I don’t know if the RFL can afford to lose Hull KR from Super League. This has broken me as a player and as a rugby league fan.”
Rovers were 10-0 up inside 13 minutes with tries from Adam Walker and Mantellato, who also added a conversion.
But Salford, who felt they should never have even being in the Qualifiers having had six points deducted for 2014 salary cap breaches, levelled via Ben Murdoch-Masila’s try and Evalds’s converted first before Mantellato’s penalty put Rovers 12-10 ahead at the break.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Minns, Thornley, Mantellato; Campese, Marsh; Tilse, Lunt, Walker, Blair, Clarkson, Donaldson. Substitutes: Horne, Peacock, Allgood, Jubb.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Johnson, Jones, Sa’u, J Griffin; Lui, Dobson; Burgess, Tomkins, G Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Substitutes: Kopczak, Krasniqi, Evalds, Kenny.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).