As the hooter sounded at LSV last week, condemning Salford to a shock defeat at the hands of Leigh Centurions, the landscape of the Qualifiers drastically changed.
The Red Devils, heavily backed to cruise through the Super 8s unscathed, had suddenly opened up the entire competition with defeat. Leigh had picked up an unexpected victory in their quest for promotion, while Salford now found themselves in the mix to avoid relegation.
One beauty about the Super 8s and its short format is that the damage inflicted by defeat can be cruelly significant. The harmony of the entire competition has been disrupted by one surprising result, and there is very much an unpredictability about the Qualifiers now that makes compelling viewing for neutrals, but distressing for those involved.
Leigh, Hull KR and Huddersfield were expected to battle it out for third, fourth and fifth spot, but with Salford losing, and London’s emphatic victory over Batley, the race for promotion and the Million Pound Game has become a five-horse race.
It makes Salford’s game with Hull KR the biggest of the season for both clubs, without question. Rovers, the most vulnerable to relegation according to some pundits, have a fantastic opportunity to relieve the pressure on them and shift it to the Red Devils, who know with defeat that they can’t afford another slip-up, or are threatened with automatic relegation.
The implications involved with relegation for both clubs would be catastrophic. Both have become mainstays in the top flight for over a decade and made strides forward in that time. To see that go to waste is unthinkable for both. However, one of these two clubs will be a step nearer to seeing those fears become a reality should they lose tonight, that is the scary predicament both find themselves in.
What makes this game even more crucial are the upcoming fixtures for Salford and KR. Having both already suffered one defeat in the Qualifiers, heading into games against Leeds and Leigh in the next round of action puts extensive pressure on them going into two crucial games.
For Salford, defeat to Leeds, compounded with defeat to KR on Friday, would put them in serious danger of the Million Pound Game, while KR would have to avoid defeat to ensure they don’t suffer a similar predicament.