SALFORD Red Devils ran their blood to water but were beaten by Castleford Tigers in a thriller at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Reds were down to the bare bones in terms of fit players and picked up more injuries in the game.
And it was catching as even referee George Stokes limped off after twisting his ankle!
Those who did play did Salford proud with a lionhearted display of guts and true grit. The home challenge was led by Kevin Locke, who played his socks off.
The New Zealander scored two tries and was patched up but refused to come off.
Salford were magnificent to a man but they fell just short in what was an entertaining contest against the Tigers.
Salford fans also saw a sparkling debut from teenager Oliver Gildart, who has joined from Wigan on loan.
Gildart, the son of former Wigan forward Ian Gildart, played in the centre and showed he is very much one for the future.
As for Locke, it was wonderful to see the classy Kiwi coming to the fore with a five-star performance.
He was involved in everything, having started on the wing and then moving to dummy-half.
Locke was even feeding the scrum at one stage and caused endless problems for the Tigers throughout the match.
Theo Fages gave Salford the lead and the alert Locke doubled it with a superb try.
Castleford, however, were level at the break as Salford conceded a second try to Ashley Gibson on the stroke of half-time.
It proved costly as the Tigers started the secondhalf strongly, opening up a 12-point lead.
But this Salford squad is made of strong stuff and came roaring back. In fact, the fight-back was a pleasure to witness.
Their task was made all the more difficult by losing two hookers Wayne Godwin and Liam Hood – along with Adrian Morley – to injury. But Gildart made a wonderful second try for Locke and Scott Taylor added a fourth at the death.
Taylor also played big minutes and Reds did not deserve to finish the game with nothing to show for their heroics effort.
Coach Iestyn Harris was disappointed to lose, but was rightly proud of his players.
Harris said: ‘‘We gave everything and we showed tremendous spirit.
‘‘I could not have asked my players for any more.
‘‘We were up against it from the start but competed for everything.
‘‘We have lost a few more players, had players playing out of position – and could not buy a penalty.
‘‘We have had the least penalties in the whole competition.
‘‘Ian Watson, the assistant coach, was close to playing and could be closer by next weekend!
‘‘We had to play without a hooker and will have to assess the situation.
‘‘Scott Taylor did 80 minutes for us and that was a terrific effort.
‘‘Gildart looked well. He impressed me at Wigan and he showed some nice touches. He will get better and we are thankful to Wigan for letting him come to us.
‘‘We will also have to have a look at Kevin Locke, he tweaked his groin and played 60 minutes with an injury. Had we lost him, we would have lost our shape in total. It is not easy for us but I cannot take anything away from the effort put in.’’