Salford squash Huddersfield in playoffs to reach Super League semis

Super League is no stranger to an underdog story, but this is some chapter of history Salford are threatening to write. To call this squad assembled by Paul Rowley a bunch of misfits would perhaps be unfair, but if you pick it apart it is not difficult to see why so many felt they were more likely to be relegated than reach a major final in 2022.

Eight of the 17 that moved them to within 80 minutes of the Super League Grand Final have played in the Championship in recent years. Tim Lafai, their star centre, was working in a mine in Australia this time last year, with no club willing to take a risk on him. Even Marc Sneyd, the scrum-half who has been in multiple major finals, was allowed to leave Hull last year after they thought they could secure an upgrade on his services.

The reigning champions, St Helens, stand between Salford and a second appearance in the Grand Final in three years, a remarkable feat for a club who are Super League’s lowest spenders.

Wigan will host Leeds on Friday in the other semi-final, with the RFL launching an investigation into the scenes that marred their win over Catalans on Friday after the match officials appeared to be pelted with missiles when leaving the field in Perpignan.

Salford will be underdogs, but they are used to that. They were here after all. They dominated Huddersfield from start to finish, leading 16-0 by the midway point of a blistering first half and never looking back.

“Our character and our attitude is unbelievable,” Rowley said. “Our resilience was fantastic. They’re an incredible bunch of players to work with.”

Huddersfield have impressed this year under Ian Watson, reaching the Challenge Cup final and finishing third. But this was a disappointing end to their season that promised so much at various junctures but ultimately petered out.

“Salford were too good for us, they blew us away,” Watson said. “More credit to them than us, we just didn’t turn up.”

The one worry for Salford is they will be without Brodie Croft next Saturday. He has been the best half-back in Super League in 2022, but after failing a head assessment here, he will miss the semi-final. Croft and Sneyd were devastating in the first half, with the latter opening the scoring from the tee. He and Croft combined to send Joe Burgess across, before Croft’s imperious break led to Kallum Watkins touching down.

Another penalty from Sneyd made it 16-0, and even so early in proceedings you felt such a deficit was never likely to be overturned.

Even the loss of Croft did not stunt Salford’s rhythm after the break and when Sneyd kicked through for Ryan Brierley to score, there was no way back for Huddersfield.

All that was left was for Andy Ackers to seal the win in the final minute with a long-range finish. The party among the Salford support had long since started by then.