Salford City Roosters produced one of their best performances of the season against Whitehaven-based Kells but still slumped to their eighth successive league defeat.
It was cruel on Salford. They were crushed 60-18 four months ago by this side and played the better rugby and will feel deeply unlucky not to have taken the points.
Six changes were necessary from the previous week’s line up and scrum half Jordan Parker was a big miss, but it was pleasing to have Martin Judge back for his first game in four months, along with Christian Higgins, Mark Thomas, Andrew Muscat, Danny Trimble and Adam Taher.
Roosters belied their lowly league position and dominated the early stages, so it was no surprise when they took the lead on 10 minutes.
Muscat threw out a long pass to George Kemp on the wing and he showed great pace to run 75 metres, beating full back Dominic Wear along the way to score the opening try which Bradley White converted for a 6-0 lead.
White’s skills were on show to put Roosters 12-0 up on 21 minutes, shaping to kick to the corner on the last tackle, but fooling everyone – except the alert Muscat – by sending a reverse kick between the posts.
Kells pulled two scores back as the Roosters stepped off the gas, through Martin O’Neill and Tyrone Dalton. White nicked over a drop goal to send Salford City in 13-12 at half-time.
On 51 minutes, the hard-defending visitors edged ahead for the first time; it was a great individual try as Dalton dummied through a gap to score and testimony to the way Roosters played that he celebrated like he had scored the winner at Wembley.
The game was being played at a frantic pace and on 69 minutes Kells had Ryan Watson sin binned for a high tackle, but before Roosters could take advantage of the extra man Joe Connor was also shown yellow for retaliation.
To be fair to the Cumbrians they had a try by Lewis Wilson ruled out for a forward pass on 64 minutes, but Roosters were soon on the attack again and forced a goal line drop out 3 minutes after when Joe Connor caused panic in the defence and a loose pass was thrown out of play.
Salford hearts were broken five minutes from time when Kells scored against the run of play. Wear picked the ball up and squeezed through a gap with a clear run to the line. Roosters gave chase but Wear was quickest and Gainford’s conversion gave the Cumbrians an unassailable nine-point lead.
The match ended 19-22, with one final converted Salford score from White but Kells held out and time ran out.