London Broncos claimed an incredibly hard fought 16-19 victory over the Salford Devils at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A tense start, London’s defence was strong from the get go, and their persistence was rewarded when they were the first to go over after William Barthau superbly intercepted a pass, and ran half the length of the field to touch down.
Neither side scored for another 20 minutes. Salford had a good share of possession and territory, but London’s almost faultless defence wouldn’t allow the side over – holding players up on the last tackle, or forcing an error through fantastic use of applied pressure.
After numerous attempts, George Griffin finally got the home side on the scoreboard with a mere five minutes remaining before the break. O’Brien added the two from right in front.
However, the hosts weren’t to hang on to the lead for long – Israel Eliab made a cracking break, and after a lovely spell of play, Thackray offloaded to Scott Leatherbarrow, who darted across for a four pointer. Soward duly added the extras for a 6-10 lead at half time.
London kept the Devils scoreless for much of the second 40, and in fact didn’t increase the tally themselves until a very clever play from Soward as the final quarter approached. The Australian halfback wasted no time after spotting a break in Salford’s line – running from halfway, managing a timely pass to Eliab, who in turn managed another superb offload in return to allow #33 over.
Shortly after, Salford were penalised for holding Andy Ackers down, and the Broncos opted to kick for the two, which Soward slotted with apparent ease. Furthering the home side’s pain, Barthau extended the gap just that little bit further by kicking a drop goal.
The Devils picked up in the pace in the final ten minutes, looking as they though might mount a comeback victory – Griffin added two tries in quick succession, but O’Brien converted one from two.
With only three points in it, the Devils tried in vain to go over for a third. A valiant London defence held the side out, securing London’s victory of season, and first Super League scalp in the 8s.
Head coach, Andrew Henderson said he was thrilled for his players.
“We’ve had a pretty long and arduous Championship season where we’ve been under a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure to finish in that top four.
“The reality of it is, we’ve been running with a 21 man squad for the Championship season, and we weren’t able to bring any more bodies in for the 8s.
“I’ve always said we’re not that far off taking a Super League scalp and I think the Hull KR loss last week really, really hit us hard and I was worried about this week in terms of would we be able to pick ourselves up and fight on and go again, and I think today just showed the character of this team.
“They’re an honest group, they’re a quality group and they have a will and a want, ambition and drive and a hunger, and we saw that today. I thought today was our best performance of the season.
“It was always going to take our best performance of the season to jab a win over a Super League team. Our line speed was good, we were tenacious, we showed a lot of endeavour defensively, and we put them under a lot of pressure.
“I’m just so proud of the group in terms of the response.
“Either way, it’s been progression for us a club. This year we’ve stabilised as a club. We found a home where we can put some roots down, and we’ve done a lot of productive work on and off the field. We recruited what we could within the budget we’ve got to work with, and I think this group of players has done amazingly.
London Broncos: Kear, Williams, Hellewell, Eliab, Pearce-Paul, Barthau, Soward, Slyney, Ackers, Ioane, Harrison, Garside, Bussey
Subs: Leatherbarrow, Offerdahl, Thackray, Battye
Tries: Barthau (16), Leatherbarrow (37), Soward (58),
Goals: Soward 3/4
Drop Goals: Barthau 1/1
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Johnson, Jones, Sa’u, Griffin, O’Brien, Dobson, Burgess, Tomkins, Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan
Subs: Krasniqi, Walne, Lui, Kopczak
Tries: Griffin (35, 75, 77)
Goals: O’Brien 2/3