Leeds 17-16 Salford: Late drop-goal by captain Luke Gale secures first Challenge Cup in five years for the Rhinos at Wembley
- The never-say-die Red Devils edged in front for the first time after 57 minutes
- But Handley’s second try to make it 16-16 was followed by Gale’s one-pointer
- The triumph was witnessed by around 200 officials and members of the media
A drop goal five minutes from the end by Leeds captain Luke Gale secured a dramatic 17-16 victory over surprise Challenge Cup finalists Salford in surreal circumstances at a near-deserted Wembley.
The never-say-die Red Devils edged in front for the first time after 57 minutes but Rhinos winger Ash Handley scored his second try of the match to level the scores and Gale came up with the winning point.
So Leeds managed to deliver a 14th Challenge Cup triumph for stricken former player Rob Burrow and leave Salford still searching for their first Cup win since 1938.
Leeds celebrate after winning the Challenge Cup at a near-deserted Wembley on Saturday
They may have played only two games to get to Wembley, while their achievement was witnessed by around 200 officials and members of the media and there was no walk up those famous steps to be presented with their prize, but the asterisk next to their name will not mean a jot to Richard Agar’s men.
This was still Wembley, the place where dreams are either fulfilled or shattered, and they did it for Burrow, who was forced to turn down an invitation to attend as he continues his battle with motor neurone disease but was chief guest ‘in absentia’ from his home in West Yorkshire.
The outcome, though, was tough on Salford playmaker Kevin Brown, who has now experienced the heartache of defeat in four Challenge Cup finals with four different clubs.
A late drop-goal by captain Luke Gale saw Leeds fight back to beat Salford
Salford created the first scoring opportunity when winger Krisnan Inu broke through the Leeds line but full-back Niall Evalds, so impressive on his return from a six-week injury absence, was unable to collect his kick with a try beckoning.
The Rhinos made the most of the let-off as centre Konrad Hurrell produced a clever one-handed pass to get long-serving right winger Tom Briscoe, their five-try hero from 2015, over for his seventh cup final try.
Rhyse Martin’s conversion attempt went in off the far upright to make it 6-0 but the Red Devils drew level against the run of play on 18 minutes when former Leeds centre Kallum Watkins gathered Gale’s attacking kick and Evalds demonstrated quick thinking to get winger Rhys Williams sprinting 90 metres for a glorious try.
Inu’s conversion levelled the scores but Leeds had a try from substitute James Donaldson disallowed for a double movement before creating an overlap for left winger Handley to score his first try 10 minutes before half-time, when they led 12-6.
Winger Tom Briscoe broke a Wembley record with his seventh try in a Challenge Cup final
It was an accurate reflection of the opening half but the Red Devils are nothing if not resilient and they hit back with two tries in six minutes to go in front.
Burly substitute Pauli Pauli took Tui Lolohea’s pass and proved unstoppable from 15 metres out for the first, and second rower James Greenwood grabbed the second when full-back Richie Myler had failed to deal with Lolohea’s high kick.
Inu converted Greenwood’s try to make it 16-12 but it was level once more on 64 minutes when man of the match Myler worked Handley over for his second try to set up a tense finale.
Gale was wide with his first drop-goal attempt and, after Watkins almost created a second try for Williams, the former Castleford scrum-half found the target with five minutes left to break the deadlock.