Former Australia national coach Tim Sheens said farewell to Salford after helping them reach the Million-Pound Match.
Sheens is quitting his role as director of rugby at the Red Devils to take over as head coach of Hull KR next season and will be an interested spectator when his current and future employers meet at the Lightstream Stadium on Saturday to decide the 12th and final team in Super League for 2017.
Salford secured their place in the Million-Pound Match with a 42-14 win at Batley, after which head coach Ian Watson confirmed his boss will play no role in his team’s preparation for the one-off game in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
Salford had put themselves in relegation trouble by losing at home to London Broncos a week ago but began the process of redemption with a confident display against Batley.
Playing downhill in the first half, they had the game wrapped up by the interval when they led 34-4, with full-back Gareth O’Brien leading the way as he went on to claim 18 points with two tries and five goals.
Sunday’s match marked the farewell of popular Batley coach John Kear and skipper Keegan Hirst, who will be reunited in Super League with Wakefield in 2017.
It was inevitably a tense opening but once O’Brien took a pass from his half-back partner Michael Dobson to cross for the game’s first try on 11 minutes, Salford were able to relax.
The Red Devils were particularly threatening on their left edge, where Josh Griffin got his threequarter partner Junior Sa’u over for their second try.
Batley winger Wayne Reittie finished off a neat handling move for the 100th try of his career midway through the first half but it was only a minor irritation for the visitors.
Dobson worked second rower Weller Hauraki over for two tries before half-time, winger Greg Johnson finished off a break from Ben Murdoch-Masilla and Griffin also touched down as the Red Devils extended their lead to 34-4.
They found it tougher going uphill after the break, though, and Batley scored the first points of the second half when Reittie collected Pat Walker’s kick to the corner for his second try.
Loose forward Luke Blake and prop Alex Rowe were also held up over the line as the Bulldogs produced a spirited response without ever threatening to haul themselves back into contention.
Hooker Logan Tomkins got stand-off Robert Lui romping 40 metres for Salford’s seventh try and, although Batley pulled another try back when centre Chris Ulugia pounced on Cain Southernwood’s grubber kick, O’Brien had the final say when he dummied his way over for his second try four minutes from the end.
“I’m really chuffed,” Kear enthused. “The performance might have reflected my character, it was gritty and determined, it was enthusiastic and it was hard-working.”
Batley Bulldogs: D. Scott, Reittie, Smeaton, Ulugia, Ainscough, Southernwood, Brambani, Hirst, Leak, Rowe, Day, Bretherton, Blake. Substitutes: Walker, Lillycrop, Gledhill, Harrison.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien, Johnson, Jones, Sa’u, J. Griffin, Lui, Dobson, Burgess, Tomkins, G. Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Substitutes: Krasniqi, A. Walne, Kenny, Vidot.
Referee: C Campbell (RFL).