Salford Red Devils finally got the new Super League season underway at the AJ Bell Stadium against last year's champions Wigan Warriors, and a massive crowd turned up after last season's heroics against Hull KR.
Salford survived in Super League by the skin of their teeth last year, and today were out of the game by half-time when they trailed 26-0, but rallied in the second half to create some optimism for the new campaign.
The Red Devils were without first-choice second row pair Weller Hauraki and Ben Murdoch-Masila through injury and are still awaiting the arrival of Australian stand-off Todd Carney, so are unlikely to be at their best for some time yet.
Salford endured a tough opening after conceding a third-minute try and losing centre Junior Sa'u and stand-off Robert Lui with head knocks, although the latter was able to return before half-time after his concussion assessment.
Wigan were without long-term casualties Sam Tomkins, Dominic Manfredi and Michael McIlorum, as well as England second rower John Bateman who was rested as a precaution. But they never looked back after Burgess palmed the ball back from reaching skipper Sean O'Loughlin's grubber kick for Gildart to score the opening try after only two minutes.
Burgess went over himself eleven minutes later and Gildart took a return pass from second rower Liam Farrell on 25 minutes to add his second. It was all too easy as the Salford defence opened up invitingly for stand-off George Williams to jink his way over, and on the stroke of half-time his half-back partner Leuluai created a first try since last March for second rower Joel Tomkins. Escare kicked his third goal from five attempts to put his side 26-0 up at the break.
Salford had their moments in the first half, with winger Justin Carney twice dropping difficult passes in promising positions, and they opened the scoring after half time when replacement hooker Kriss Brining dummied his way over from acting half-back on his Super League debut.
Gareth O'Brien added the conversion and centre Niall Evalds threatened to add another try after producing a fifty metre break but the pacy Burgess got back to deny him.
Right winger Lewis Tierney then pulled off an interception to halt a dangerous Salford attack and denied scrum-half Michael Dobson a try by holding him up over the line. The pressure on the Wigan defence finally told on seventy minutes when Sa'u forced his way over wide out and Salford added a third try five minutes later when Dobson pounced on a defensive error, with O'Brien kicking a third goal.
After the game I spoke with Peter Clifford, from Winton, who said "Two bad calls by the ref cost Salford dear in this game; a better second half where they kept the champions to nil"... Alan Ferrady from Pendleton said "Salford seemed a bit in awe of Wigan in the first half and that cost them but if the ref would have had some balls he would have sent two Wigan players off in the first ten minutes"...
I personally could see a massive improvement by Salford in the second half. Now we move onto Huddersfield on Thursday, and confidence can be gained from that second half...
Salford coach Ian Watson said after the game...
"In the first half, for whatever the reason it wasn't us, we have to be better than that. In an 80 minute window it showed our season from last year, one week we would be good like in the 2nd half, first half we were poor...we clinged on and gifted the opposition.
"We bombed a few opportunities straight away at the beginning of the first half and that's when we need to dig in, grind it out and stay tight with them. B efore half time we let it blow out to 26, if we had kept it to 20, who knows? In a tight contest with another team we feel that we are fit enough and strong enough to come through the other side the way we play, we have to believe that and put [this performance] to bed on week one here and start being what we are, which is our 2nd half performance."
Match report by Simon Williams
Photos by Gareth Lyons