Salford Red Devils completed a remarkable comeback from 18-10 down to win the Million Pound Game in extra-time against Hull Kingston Rovers, to secure their survival in the Super League, and to ensure that Hull KR are absent from the top flight of rugby league for the first time since 2006.
Hull had the brighter start of the two teams, perhaps aggrieved after their controversial loss to Huddersfield a week before, leading 10-0 after 20 minutes thanks to tries from Adam Walker and Josh Mantellato. Salford were clinical whenever they went forward, with Ben Murdoch-Masila scoring a try with his team’s first real chance of the game, before Niall Evalds equalised, with Mantellato’s penalty before half-time giving Hull a two point lead before the break. A converted try from Thomas Minns left Hull fans feeling confident as the clock ticked down, but what happened next will live long in the memory of both sets of supporters.
Evalds’ second try of the game with only two minutes to go was the spark for a breathless finish, with Salford scoring another try to give themselves a conversion to win the match, but Gareth O’Brien’s effort was off target, leaving the game to be decided by a golden point. Hull kicked off to begin extra-time and never touched the ball again, with O’Brien sending a 50-yard drop goal between the posts within the first minute to end the match.
The match will prove to be a high point in what has been a topsy-turvy season for Salford, with owner Marwan Koukash threatening to sell the club after a dispute with the sport’s governing body, the Rugby Football League. The club were given a six-point deduction for the RFL for breaching salary cap restrictions, a punishment which was described as ‘very harsh’ by Koukash. The penalty dropped Salford outside of the top eight in the league table, meaning that they had to play in the Qualifiers to secure their Super League status, rather than in the Super 8’s which would have given them a shot at the title.
Salford’s ecstasy is Hull’s misery, with head coach Jamie Peacock offering his resignation after the game. Both sides were critical of the format in the run-up to match, as failure to win would lead to the contracts of all players becoming automatically void. Although there is much more money at stake in football’s Championship play-off final, with Sky Sports suggesting that the winners stand to make £170m more than the losers, thanks to the additional TV money available in the Premier League, players will still be contracted and on comfortable salaries after defeat. In comparison, Hull KR say that it is possible fifty members of staff will lose their jobs, and some players may not be offered full-time contracts for the next season. There is no doubt that the match provides plenty of drama for viewers pitch-side and at home, it is easy to forget that sportsmen and women have families and bills to pay, and for them, it is far more than just another game.
Photo Credit: Salford Red Devils