Luke Gale’s late drop goal clinched a breathless Challenge Cup final for Leeds Rhinos at empty Wembley.
Gale – who paid tribute to Rhinos legend Rob Burrow as he continues his battle against motor neurone disease from home – held his nerve with just four and a half minute left of a pulsating clash.
Leeds were ahead for much of it, scoring first through Tom Briscoe and leading 12-6 at half-time after Ash Handley cancelled out Rhys Williams’ stunning response.
Salford then roared back after the break, Pauli Pauli storming over and James Greenwood finishing by the posts to put them 16-12 in front.
But the Rhinos it back with Handley’s second – created by man of the match Richie Myler – and Gale clinched it with the clock ticking down.
Here are five talking points from the game.
1. Cool hand Luke
If anyone was going to step forward with the winning drop goal, it was always likely to be Luke Gale.
The Leeds Rhinos playmaker has proved a master at decisive one-pointers in recent seasons, and after pushing his first attempt wide, made it count when it mattered most with four and a half minutes remaining.
The Rhinos made a big push to bring the England international in from Castleford to help them secure silverware again – that move has now begun to pay off.
2. Magnificent Myler
Richie Myler’s first experience of a Challenge Cup final was being left out by Warrington in 2010.
He returned as a winner with the Wolves in 2012, but it is 2020 that he will be most remembered for after an outstanding display at full-back for the Rhinos.
There had been some pre-match debate over whether coach Richard Agar had a decision to make with Jack Walker recently returning from injury, but Myler repaid his faith in him and then some.
Highlights included snaffling a Niall Evalds chip over, superb hands both of Ash Handley’s tries and a clearing first half break from his own line.
A deserving Lance Todd Trophy winner.
3. Agar’s Rhinos turnaround
Last season’s Challenge Cup saw Leeds dumped out unceremoniously by Championship rivals Bradford live on the BBC, just days after Richard Agar had taken what was then temporary charge after the dismissal of coach David Furner.
The appointment was hardly greeted with universal approval, but Agar’s early impact on the club was enough to secure him the job permanently.
Just over 12 months on from that Bulls nightmare, Leeds have a 14th Challenge Cup, and Agar’s reputation is rightly on the rise.
Victory also means he follows in the footsteps of dad Allan, who guided Featherstone to Wembley glory in 1983.
4. Touch of Welsh magic
Salford winger Rhys Williams’ first half try deserves to be remembered as one of the best in Challenge Cup finals.
The Red Devils were defending when Kallum Watkins rose superbly to collect a Luke Gale kick, and offloaded to Niall Evalds as he fell to the ground.
Evalds was equally quick thinking in releasing Williams, who – sporting less hair than his stunning February try against Toronto that saw him go viral as a Mo Salah lookalike – had too much pace for the chasing Robert Lui over the length of the field.
5. Sport is nothing without fans
It’s a line that’s been uttered many times over the course of the year, but rarely can it have been more relevant than at Wembley.
Challenge Cup final day is usually awash with colour and passion as supporters from across the game descend on the national stadium, creating an atmosphere that lasts the entire weekend.
With little more than a relative handful of people inside the vast stadium, the contrast could hardly have been more marked.
Small groups of fans from both clubs made their way south to gather around the ground before and after the match, but it can only be hoped that the world is in a much different place by the time of next year’s final.
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