Salford Red Devils began their new era on a high note in front of a stadium record crowd of 7,102 but Wakefield almost spoiled the party with a tremendous second-half rally.
The excitement began with a parachute drop into the AJ Bell Stadium by the more famous Red Devils and Salford owner Marwan Koukash was all smiles at half-time when his new-look team led 18-0. But Koukash was in a mean-looking mood throughout the second half as the Wildcats, inspired by debutants Paul McShane and Pita Godinet and veteran forward Ali Lauitiiti, struck back with three tries in the third quarter.
Brian Noble’s team, Super League wooden spoon winners in 2013, were good enough to hold on for an 18-14 opening-round win but the former Great Britain boss will know he has plenty to do if he is to turn the Devils into a championship-winning team.
He had 13 of his 14 close-season signings in the starting line-up and saw the biggest of them, England stand-off Rangi Chase, limp out of the action midway through the first half.
It did not seem to matter as Salford scored three tries without reply, inspired by Chase’s half-back partner Tim Smith, the former Wakefield scrum-half. Second rower Harrison Hansen set the tone with an early crunching tackle on Wakefield winger Peter Fox and his former Wigan team-mate Gareth Hock touched down after Junior Sa’u had palmed the ball back from Chase’s grubber kick.
Full-back Jake Mullaney kicked the first of his three goals to put Salford into a 6-0 lead which they gradually built on.
Wakefield, who lost one of the newcomers, Jimmy Keinhorst, to injury after 17 minutes, worked their way into the game and might have drawn level had Fox been able to take Richard Mathers’ pass on 19 minutes.
When Chase limped out of the action, Smith stepped up to the mark, laying on tries for Harrison and substitute Andrew Dixon in a six-minute spell just before half-time, when the home side led 18-0.
Godinet, one of three new signings who have been in the country less than a week, sparked Wakefield’s fightback, scoring one try and creating another within 10 minutes of the re-start.
His pinpoint pass got second rower Matt Ryan charging through a gap in the home defence before he intercepted a Shane Howarth pass to go over himself.
Paul Sykes succeeded with his second conversion attempt to leave the Wildcats trailing by eight points and they thought they had scored again on 53 minutes when Lauitiiti barged his way to the line but referee James Child decided he had not grounded the ball.
Lauitiiti was not to be denied, however, as the former New Zealand international proved unstoppable on the hour as he crashed over with a trio of defenders on his back. Sykes was wide with the goalkick but the visitors were on a roll and they might have scored again eight minutes before the end when left winger Reece Lyne dropped Godinet’s floated pass.
Salford: Mullaney, Johnson, Walton, Sa’u, Meli, Chase, Smith, Morley, Lee, Tasi, Hansen, Hock, Puletua. Subss: Griffin, Dixon, McPherson, Howarth.
Wakefield: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Keinhorst, Lyne, Sykes, Godinet, Anderson, McShane, Smith, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Subs: Raleigh, Ryan, Tautai, Walshaw.
Referee: James Child.
Attendance : 7,102