SALFORD RED DEVILS are in real danger of losing their Super League status after suffering a 30-8 defeat at Leeds Rhinos last night.
The Red Devils began the Qualifiers with an impressive win over Huddersfield but back-to-back defeats to Leigh and Hull KR left them perilously placed before Leeds worsened their relegation fears.
Salford are four points off a top-three spot that would guarantee another season in Super League and face the prospect of scrapping for their survival in the Million Pound Game in October.
Leeds went into the break with a two-point lead thanks to in-form Kallum Watkins after Jamie Jones-Buchanan and George Griffin had exchanged early converted tries.
Salford needed a big second half but they were kept scoreless as James Segeyaro, Carl Ablett and Adam Cuthbertson all crossed for the Rhinos, who comfortably maintained their 100 per cent record.
A hard-fought 8-0 victory over Salford in June got Leeds’s season back on track and they began last night’s match like a side that had won eight of their last nine games.
It took the Rhinos just five minutes to open the scoring through Jones-Buchanan’s close-range effort after a break from Joel Moon, continuing at stand-off, had earned the hosts a penalty.
There was a sense Salford needed to hit back quickly and they did just that as Josh Griffin patted back a kick from Michael Dobson, who stayed alive to give George Griffin a simple finish under the posts.
Leeds dominated possession and territory as the first half went on – aided by Salford indiscipline – but they could not make it count and the Red Devils went in front for the first time when Gareth O’Brien booted a penalty after the Rhinos were penalised for offside.
The Salford stand-off left his team-mates up against it after being sent to the sin bin for a professional foul and the visitors could not see out the remaining few minutes of the half.
Leeds worked their way down field from the resultant penalty and made the extra man count as Watkins strolled in for his seventh try in four games from Brett Ferres’s pass with Salford stretched.
Liam Sutcliffe was unable to add the extras and that was his last meaningful action as Jordan Lilley replaced him at half-time with Watkins moving to full-back.
The Rhinos were only leading 10-8 when O’Brien returned from the bin and it looked as if Salford would edge back ahead following a storming run from Weller Hauraki, only for the former Leeds forward to be penalised for a double movement after being hauled down by Watkins and Segeyaro.
Leeds were given another boost when Stevie Ward came off the bench for his first appearance since sustaining a serious knee injury at Huddersfield in the final weekend of last September.
A high tackle on Ward allowed Lilley to stretch Leeds’s advantage from a penalty and the young half-back was on target again after Segeyaro had pounced on a spilled ball to race clear and score.
Salford were rocking and they were left with a mountain to climb when Ablett touched down after Rob Burrow’s cross-field kick was claimed by Tom Briscoe.
Lilley made it three from three from the boot to put Leeds 24-8 ahead and then rounded off the scoring following Cuthbertson’s try from Segeyaro’s pass two minutes from time.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott said: “I thought Salford were great defensively to start with.
“We got a bit more cohesion in the second half, but it was a tight game.
“I think the 30-8 scoreline probably flattered us a bit.”
Leeds: Sutcliffe, T. Briscoe, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hall, Moon, Burrow, Galloway, Segeyaro, Singleton, Ferres, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Ward, Garbutt, Lilley.
Salford: Evalds, Vidot, Sa’u, Jones, J. Griffin, O’Brien, Dobson, Burgess, Tomkins, G. Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Substitutes: Kopczak, Lui, Krasniqi, Lannon.
Referee: B Thaler (RFL).