10. Hull Kingston Rovers 22-24 Salford Red Devils
One of the great comebacks of the season as the Red Devils fought back from 22-8 to win in gritty circumstances on a chilly February afternoon by 24 points to 22. They demonstrated quality, endeavour and character in the process of the second-half fightback.
A perfectly-weighted grubber kick from Australian halfback Josh Drinkwater found Weller Hauraki who touched down for the game’s opening try. Salford responded through Robert Lui who took Jackson Hastings’ accurate pass and used Josh Jones as the decoy runner to find enough space to score under pressure. Jones helped himself to a try of his own a few minutes later, taking Robert Lui’s bullet pass to barge his way over. Hull KR were however the better side in the first half and eventually made the pressure count with scores from Craig Hall, George Lawler and Jimmy Keinhorst. Salford’s completion rate was a horror story during the first half and the hosts might have been a little annoyed at only being 14 points in front at the interval and not completely out of sight.
Salford made their opponents pay in the second half with a devastating comeback. They got on the board in the second half to start off with through Castleford-bound winger Derrell Olpherts who took a classy pass from Robert Lui before improving to angle to score. Salford then reduced the hosts’ winning margin to just 4 points with a good passing move that included Robert Lui, Jackson Hastings, Niall Evalds and Junior Sa’u who provided the final pass to Ken Sio who acrobatically touched down in the corner. The match-winning try was a trademark dummy half crash-over by Joey Lussick who caught two defenders anticipating the pass and had the strength and technique to score under pressure. A memorable victory for Salford.
9. Hull FC 14-15 Wigan Warriors
A dogged and resilient display for Wigan earned them a narrow away victory at the KCOM Stadium in what was a nail-biting, tightly-contested affair. In a low-scoring first half full of big hits, strong carries and tough defence, Liam Marshall scored the game’s opening try, beating Bureta Fariamo to Thomas Leuluai’s high kick. Marshall was taken out in the air during the process of scoring and was therefore granted an eight point try. One Hardaker penalty goal and three Sneyd penalty goals meant a tight first half ended Hull 6-10 Wigan.
In the 48th minute Marshall helped himself to a second try, wrestling his way past Sneyd to score in the corner. During a dramatic and intense second half Hull had a long spell of pressure and eventually scored their only try of the night through Scott Taylor who crashed over from close range, typically converted by Sneyd. Former Castleford halfback Sneyd went on to level the scores with a penalty goal in the 72nd minute of the game which sent the match into drop goal territory. A pulsating game was decided by a Hardaker 40m drop goal, after Sneyd had a drop goal attempt charged down following a frantic chase from several Wigan defenders.
8. Castleford Tigers 27-26 Huddersfield Giants
This was a dramatic encounter that was eventually decided by a Peter Mata’tuia drop goal in golden point territory that broke Huddersfield hearts. The visitors scored the first try of the evening arguably against the run of play with their first meaningful attack of the night as former St Helens halfback Lee Gaskell found a way through the Castleford defence to touch down. Gaskell helped himself to a second, converted by halfback partner Oliver Russell. Two penalty goals courtesy of the versatile Mata’tuia meant the score-line read Castleford 4-12 Huddersfield. The Tigers responded two minutes before the halftime interval through Greg Minikin who pounced on a loose ball to score from a Mata’tuia grubber kick. Halftime Castleford 10-12 Huddersfield.
The home side drew level as Mata’tuia kicked his third penalty goal of the evening, only for Huddersfield to regain their lead shortly after as Gaskell backed up McIntosh’s break to complete his hatrick. It was all square once more on 63 minutes as barnstorming prop Liam Watts charged over during the 63rd minute, converted by Mata’tuia who went on to add another penalty goal to edge his side in-front. Russell then kicked his first penalty of the match to level the scores for a third time. A 40-20 kick from Russell set up good field position for the Giants and hard-running former Castleford second rower Joe Wardle powered his way over for what looked to be the match-winning try only for Grant Millington to score in the 77th minute on his 200th appearance for the club to send the match into golden point territory.
Castleford halfbacks Jake Trueman and Jordan Rankin both sliced their respective drop-goal attempts but goal-kicking fullback Mata’tuia held his nerve to seal a dramatic victory for the Tigers over the Giants.
7. London Broncos 26-24 Hull Kingston Rovers
A high-intense bottom-of-the-table clash packed with ferocious big hits, quality tries and a never-say-die attitude on both sides as London edged past Hull KR. A thoroughly entertaining end-to-end affair between two sides plunged in the relegation battle.
During a brutal, physical first half, on-loan from Warrington halfback Morgan Smith crossed in the first half. Weller Hauraki responded for the Robins. London lead 8-6 at halftime.
Hull KR enjoyed a purple patch at the start of the second half and scored twice in quick succession through talented fullback Adam Quinlan and former England Knights halfback Chris Atkin, going 8-18 in-front having been the inferior side during the first half. Kane Linnett was causing the hosts problems with his power and footwork. London showed character however and responded through Alex Walker following Jordan Abdull’s outstanding 40-20.
Abdull went on to score himself, narrowly beating Quinlan to a loose ball in goal, edging the Broncos in front. Ben Crooks nearly went the length of the pitch for the visitors but was just chased down by Rhys Williams and Kieran Dixon. Following that passage of play, Rob Butler wrestled his way over the line despite the attention of four Hull KR defenders which proved to be the match-clinching try. Playing against his old club, Drinkwater kept the game alive going into the final minute, showing guile and evasion to score and reduce the deficit to 26-24 but London deservedly hung on for the two points.
6. Hull Kingston Rovers 18-16 Hull FC
An opening-day local-derby saw the Hull Kingston Rovers edge out rivals FC in dramatic fashion with debutant Jimmy Keinhorst scoring the match-winning try during the final minute of the encounter to send the home crowd into ecstasy.
The visitors, Hull, started the stronger and after fullback Jamie Shaul went close to scoring, Sika Manu proved unstoppable from close range. Having not won a Super League game since June, Hull went on to double their lead as make-shift standoff Danny Washbrook put a well-weighted kick for former St Helens winger Matty Dawson-Jones to mark his debut with a try. However, Rovers, full of spirit and fight, responded through their new captain Joel Tomkins who slid over from close range. Danny McGuire, meanwhile, who still possessed plenty of guile and craft, set up former Leeds teammate Mitch Garbutt, who had a very good game, to level the scores at 12 apiece. Another debutant in a new-look Rovers side, Josh Drinkwater converted both tries and then landed a penalty goal to nudge the hosts in front at the halftime interval.
The second half was a tight, physical affair full of strong carries and big hits which was a real test of the fitness, resilience and attitude of both sides who pushed each other all the way in a typically intense, brutal Hull derby. Having gone into the second half with all the momentum, Rovers piled on the pressure but the black-and-whites defended with real steel and courage and looked to have pulled off a real battle-and-scrap away victory as powerful winger Bureta Faraimo demonstrated his explosive strength to bully his way through two defenders to put Hull in-front against the run of play. However, their losing run continued into the new season as with just six seconds of the match remaining another Rovers debutant in Jimmy Keinhorst grounded the ball from Drinkwater’s cross field kick just before sliding into touch, breaking Hull FC hearts.
5. Wigan Warriors 4-28 Salford Red Devils
A highly-anticipated Playoff Semi-Final ended in shock as underdogs Salford comprehensively defeated defending champions Wigan in their own backyard. The Red Devils were far superior in every department and ran out comfortable winners.
Two long range penalty goals from Krisnan Inu edged the visitors in front before former Wigan prop Gil Dudson crashed his way over. Wigan threw everything they could at Salford during the first half but struggled to make yards up the middle and struggled to break the visitors down when they got rare good field position. Inu landed another penalty goal to give Salford a handsome halftime lead of twelve points to nil.
Salford started the second half faster stronger and sharper than their opponents and deservedly struck first through a trademark Joey Lussick try, the Australian hooker once again had the presence of mind and the power to burrow and wrestle his way over the line from acting half. In a second half dominated by Salford a try from another Wigan prop, Lee Mossop, made sure of the victory. Inu converted both second half tries and two more penalty goals. A consolation try from Bevan French was hardly relevant as the large Salford following were already in party mode. This game was one of the most memorable and unpredictable Semi-Finals in Super League history. Most believed Salford would push Wigan all the way and some believed they would win narrowly but virtually nobody gave them a hope of winning as comfortably as they did! They completed their sets, made good yards up the middle, took their chances when they came, defended with aggression and discipline and Wigan had simply had no answer.
4. Castleford Tigers 38-28 Wigan Warriors
In a high-scoring and high-quality affair at the Jungle, Castleford remarkably battled back from being 0-20 down after just 22 minutes to eventually win 38-28.Wigan started much the better side, taking Cas apart during the opening quarter of the match and would have been out of sight had it not been for former Castleford hero Hardaker having an off-night with the boot. Exposing Castleford’s right edge defensive frailties, England halfback George Williams sent former Gold Coast Titans second-rower Joe Greenwood over for the game’s first try. This was followed by England centre Oliver Gildart crashing his way over in the fourteenth minute.
Gildart, who was in outstanding form around that point of the season, made a break out of nothing before supplying the supporting George Williams for Wigan’s third try. Just another three minutes later Joe Burgess finished off a flowing Wigan move to put the Warriors in a seemingly unassailable 20-point lead. However, the Tigers came roaring back during the second quarter of the game as quick-fire tries from Oliver Holmes and young fullback Callum Turner put the hosts back in the picture. Gildart, who was the best player on the pitch during the first half, caught the Tigers defence napping for his second try of the night, putting Wigan 8-24 up at half-time.
Castleford took a more direct approach during the second half with the likes of Liam Watts, Matt Cook and Mitch Clark making good ground against Wigan’s physically smaller pack and points soon followed. Clark and Cook, who both made a big impact, scored quick-fire tries which were followed by Castleford’s enforcer in the middle, Adam Milner, scooting over to put the Tigers 26-24 in-front, a prospect that seemed barely believable throughout most of the first half. That lead was short-lived however as Joe Burgess touched down in the corner for his second try of the evening, Hardaker was crucially off target for the fourth time meaning the score remained 26-28.
Wigan picked up three injuries during the game to Jarrod Sammut, Dom Manfredi and Joe Greenwood, and began to tire in the closing stages and the hosts took advantage, winning the match in snatch-and-grab fashion as somewhat untidy tries from Tuoyo Egodo and Peter Mata’tuia handed the hosts the two league points in a game they were second best in for large periods. A tremendous showing of character and resilience on Castleford’s part but certainly one that got away as far as Wigan were concerned.
3. Catalans Dragons 30-31 Hull FC
A thoroughly entertaining game of attacking rugby produced ten tries and required golden point territory to determine the winner which was duly decided by Marc Sneyd for the second time in 2019. Usually strong at home, the Dragons drew first blood as Sam Tomkins, a player with good anticipation, had the guile to spot a gap in Hull’s defence, making a break before supplying the supporting Tony Gigot for the game’s opening try. Tomkins converted Gigot’s try. Hull, a powerful and skilful team on their day, responded through young loose forward Jack Brown, crashing over in the twenty-seventh minute of the match. The visitors took the lead minutes later through another youngster in exciting fullback Connor Wynne. Full of confidence, Hull took a 6-18 lead as a typical training ground move involved Houghton stepping one way off a penalty tap before jinking the other and putting Josh Griffin through a gap and the powerful centre had the strength and technique to score under pressure.
Jason Baiteri responded for the Dragons, scoring the first try of the second half. Tomkins converted that and had already added a penalty, the hosts were now only four points adrift of their opponents. Hull, however, scored next in what was proving to be a see-saw encounter as a typically accurate close-range kick from Sneyd found in-form centre Josh Griffin who scored his second try of the game. Catalans continued the we-score you-score theme with a try out of dummy-half from tenacious, aggressive back-rower Benjamin Garcia. Hull scored what would prove to be their final try of the game on 63 minutes as an accurate no-look pass from the mercurial Jake Connor found his winger Bureta Faraimo who had the power to crash over. 20-28.
Catalans, not going away, responded just five minutes later as Tony Gigot’s floating pass found Fouad Yaha who found enough room to finish in the corner despite the best efforts of Albert Kelly. The ridiculously big and powerful Sam Kasiano looked to have won the game for the hosts with a bulldozing effort near the sticks in the 79th minute of the match near the uprights. Tomkins converted to edge his side in-front. However, there was a sting in the tale as Sneyd’s desperate short restart, that didn’t go ten metres, was inexplicably caught by Brayden Wiliame. The clinical Sneyd made no mistake with the subsequent penalty goal and went on to secure Hull the win in golden point with an ice-cool drop goal. A heart-breaking finish for Catalans in a breath-taking game of all-out attacking rugby.
2. Warrington Wolves 10-21 St Helens
An absolutely brutal affair between the then-top two of Super League as St Helens came out narrowly on top against a Warrington side that matched them physically for the majority of the game in a real high-quality game of rugby league.
In a highly-anticipated top-of-the-table showdown, defences were heavily on top during the first half as both sides shut down their opposition with real endeavour, intelligence and collective physicality. No tries were scored during a very tight opening stanza full of big hits but Declan Patton landed two penalty goals to edge the hosts 4-0 in-front at halftime. A fast-paced, high-intense second half saw an increase in prospering attacking rugby as England centre Mark Percival scored the opening try of the match in typically ruthless fashion after Patton landed a third penalty.
The outstanding Luke Thompson put St Helens in-front for the first time of the match with his bulldozing try with nine minutes to go. Jake Mamo, who made a critical error in the build up to Thompson’s try, responded for the hosts but Alex Walmsley barging over from close range ensured it was St Helens’ night. An additional penalty goal from Lachlan Coote and a field goal from the former NRL Premiership-winning Fullback were two cherries on the cake.
1. St Helens 32-30 Salford Red Devils
In the best game of the season that was played out between the two sides that made it to Old Trafford, saints battled back from a 16-30 deficit (having been 16-0 up at one point) to break Salford’s hearts in a dramatic, high-quality and entertaining encounter. A game neither team deserved to lose.
Saints started in typically fast and furious fashion and drew first blood as the elusive Regan Grace made a break before finding Lachlan Coote on his inside for the game’s opening try. It looked ominous for Salford early doors as the hosts were 16-0 up inside just twelve minutes as Coote grabbed a second try before speedster Tommy Makinson, operating at centre, raced over for the hosts’ 3rd try. However, Salford are a side full of quality, character and confidence and roared back in style, as a matter of fact they were in-front by the end of the first half. Gil Dudson powered over to get the Red Devils on the board before fullback Niall Evalds took Krisnan Inu’s offload to race the length of the pitch. Minutes later a Robert Lui cross field kick was palmed down by Krisnan Inu, who is typically good in the air, to his winger Derrell Olpherts who had the strength and agility to beat several Saints defenders on his way to touching down and putting written-off Salford in-front at halftime.
The Red Devils went into the second half with the momentum and scored their fourth try of the evening through Niall Evalds who typically supported Robert Lui’s powerful break to just about beat Regan Grace to the line. A crafty and elusive player, Lui helped himself to a try of his own off the base of the scrum, effortlessly stepping his way through the defence before scoring under the sticks to put Salford 16-30 ahead in what was looking to be a shock comeback victory for the underdogs. But in the final fifteen minutes of the game Saints did what we all know Saints do best and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
First Lachlan Coote got on the end of Zeb Ta’ia inside pass to touch down, then barely a minute later Tommy Makinson accelerated through the Salford defence and flew over the try-line after Salford bizarrely attempted a short kick off. 26-30 down Saints, a side full of power, skill and speed threw the absolute kitchen sink at Salford and although the visitors put up a real defensive fight the inevitable, cruelly, eventually happened with just twenty-five seconds remaining on the clock as James Bentley scored following a quality step and offload from Jonny Lomax despite a great effort from George Griffin. A game that simply had everything between the two best sides of 2019.