It was a case of so close but yet so far for Salford Red Devils as they fell short at the final hurdle in the Challenge Cup final, losing 17-16 after a late drop-goal by Leeds Rhinos’ Luke Gale.
Despite some positive rugby from the Red Devils in the opening period, Leeds took the lead in the 12th minute through Tom Briscoe.
Rhinos’ Kruise Leeming brought the attack forward with venom, passing it on to Konrad Hurrell who subsequently shifted it quickly into the path of Briscoe who sprang into action and finished off a brilliant move into the corner.
Leeds’ lead didn’t last long however as Ken Sio caught the ball from a Leeds kick, he offloaded it to Niall Evalds who found a gap in the Rhinos defence and exploited it with a great pass for Rhys Williams who then ran 80 meters untouched to score a try for Salford.
SO 😬 CLOSE!
A huge well done to our partners @salforddevils for their heroic efforts in their first #ChallengeCupFinal since 1969. We're so proud our #Journalism and #Physio students get to be a part of your journey.#TogetherStronger #BecomeUnstoppablehttps://t.co/UDkRjwFmmn
— University of Salford (@SalfordUni) October 17, 2020
Although, Leeds were able to respond before the break and they retook the lead as Liam Sutcliffe created space for Handley to break through to the corner to score, giving the Rhinos a 12-6 advantage at the break.
Salford had a big half ahead if they were to overturn the score and complete a historic comeback and essentially for them, the second half started strongly.
Having just picked up a new set, the Red Devils moved the ball to Pauli Pauli who showed his power and strength to break through Leeds’ defence and get over the line.
In what turned out to be the two points that cost Salford the win, Inu missed the conversion, leaving Leeds with a two-point advantage.
Salford were able to take the lead for the first time in the game as a short dink was caught by Salford’s hands and then some slick passing led to James Greenwood being sent through to score for the Red Devils.
Salford were able to extend their advantage as Insu successfully converted his goal attempt to make up for his earlier miss, giving the Red Devils a 16-12 lead.
🏟️ It hasn't been the same without you!
🙌 Seeing your shows of support has been phenomenal though!
🤝 We cannot wait until we're all back together!
— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) October 17, 2020
However, that slim advantage lasted just 6 minutes as Leeds responded in a champion like fashion as Ash Handley dived in at the corner to level the score at 16-16.
Leeds were unsuccessful with their goal attempt though, meaning that the teams were level with 15 minutes to play in this enthralling game.
Then came the moment of heartbreak for Salford, despite missing Leeds’ first drop-goal attempt, Luke Gale made up for it by keeping his cool and scoring the all-important point with a drop-goal.
That gave Leeds a 1 point lead with just four minutes to play and despite their most heroic efforts, Salford were unable to mount another dramatic comeback and were defeated 17-16 in their first Wembley appearance since 1969.
In what was one of the most dramatic and eventful finals in recent history, Leeds came out on top by the narrowest of margins, winning their first Challenge Cup in 5 years.