Salford Red Devils 12 Leeds Rhinos 38: Rhinos retain form to win stormy Super League encounter
Both teams had a player sent-off - Bodene Thompson and Lee Mossop being dismissed inside the opening quarter - and there were three yellow cards, two of those to Salford men.
Leeds also lost Konrad Hurrell to concussion and the prospect of players being suspended at the start of a hectic fixture pile-up is a concern but, overall, it was a good afternoon for Rhinos
They were either going to be well rested and fresh after a day short of a month between games, or rusty having not played for so long and been unable to train for much of that time.
It was the former. Though they made some errors, particularly during a spell in the first half, they mainly came from a willingness to attack and promote the ball.
There were a number of fine individual performances, particularly from Richie Myler who scored two tries and was heavily involved in three others from full-back.
After a couple of early knock-ons, Tom Briscoe was excellent in the left-centre and his tackle on Morgan Escare just before half-time was crucial.
Both wingers, Luke Briscoe and Jack Broadbent, had good games, Kruise Leeming, playing in the halves, was excellent and Alex Mellor caused Salford’s defence some serious problems, especially in the first 40.
It was a big effort from Gale, Leeming, Matt Prior - who was very good - and Mikolaj Oldezki, all backing up two days after international duty.
An honourable mention also goes to substitute Tom Holroyd who, in his first game of the season following a fractured leg, made a strong impact off the bench.
Rhinos defended spiritedly throughout and Salford’s tries came from an intercept in the first half and then a long-range solo effort late on.
The game, though, will probably be most remembered for the flurry of red and yellow cards, which reduced it to 11-a-side at one stage.
Things began to get heated after 15 scoreless minutes when Hurrell took exception to something Lee Mossop did in a tackle, ran towards him and was flattened by a right hook which Tyson Fury would have been proud of.
That sparked a set-to involving a host of players, with punches being thrown and, when everything calmed down, Mossop and Thompson - for running in - were both sent-off.
Hurrell made a point of shaking hands with Mossop, before also departing, for a head injury assessment which he failed.
That effectively meant Leeds were down two players from their 17 and Salford one, though the incident wouldn’t have blown up if Hurrell hadn’t gone after Mossop. Leeds scored in the set from the penalty when Brad Dwyer, Gale and Myler sent Jack Broadbent over, Rhyse Martin converting.
Soon after that, on 21 minutes, it was 11 versus 12 when Jack Wells was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Myler.
On 24 minutes Rhinos went 10-0 ahead through Tom Briscoe, after Gale and Myler had again combined.
Salford were handed a way back into the game 12 minutes before half-time when Chris Atkin intercepted Leeming’s pass close to his own line and raced clear for a try which he also converted. Salford then received three successive penalties to take them from one end of the field to the other and they took the two from the third of those, through Dec Patton.
Leeds, having been dominant up to then, could have been behind four minutes before the break when Morgan Escare got clear down the right wing, but Tom Briscoe stood his ground to make the try-saving tackle.
That was a game-changer as Leeds survived the set, were carried upfield by an offside penalty and scored through a terrific finish from Myler, off Leeming’s pass, the full-back cutting inside and stretching over. Martin converted and Myler scored again in the next set, on the final play of the half, after Dwyer sent Mellor away and he did well to find his support.
The conversion opened a 14-point gap, which was more representative of the way the half had gone than the score had been five minutes earlier. Three minutes into the second half, it was 11 versus 11 when Gale and Lannon were sin-binned for fighting.
The penalty went to Salford and Leeds survived an onslaught from that before Braodbent dived on a loose ball, won a penalty for being shoved into touch and then scored from Tom Briscoe’s pass off good work by King Vuniyayawa.
Leeds’ Combined Nations All Stars combination created the next try and it was a beauty, Prior slipping away an inside pass and Leeming finishing superbly. That was on 55 minutes and nine later Gale got on the scoresheet from a pass by Tom Briscoe, who had a strong game, after Myler had also handled.
Salford, on the back of a fine win at Huddersfield Giants last week - when they also had a player sent-off - scored a consolation seven minutes from time, through Escare who got past Mellor and Myler from inside his own half. They threw plenty at Leeds in the final few minutes, but the defence’s determination not to concede again was a positive sign.
The penalties went eight-five in Salford’s favour (three-three in the first half) and the hosts had three six-agains, to Leeds’ two.