Leeds edge past Salford by a single point
In one of the best, most closely-fought Challenge Cup Finals in decades, Leeds Rhinos beat Salford Red Devils at Wembley, thanks to a late drop goal by Luke Gale. For the Rhinos, it was a sixth appearance at the 13-player code’s showpiece occasion in just eleven years. They were really made to fight though by a Salford team making the club’s first appearance at the final since the late-1960s.
The Rhinos started well, opening the scoring through Tom Briscoe, scoring his seventh try in Challenge Cup Finals.
But just six minutes later, a quick, sudden breakaway move by three Salford players from behind their own twenty-metre line set Rhys Williams clear down the right touchline, and once he was up to full speed, no one was ever going to catch him.
On the half-hour, Leeds were back in front after a slick passing move along the backs eased Ash Handley in for a 12-6 half-time advantage, but the Devils were far from beaten yet. Samoan-Australian, Pauli Pauli, burst through some uncertain Leeds tackling early in the second half to touch down near the right flank and reduce the deficit to 12-10. Then, really catching the Rhinos cold, Salford struck again just short of the hour. Leeds made a mess of trying to tidy up a high Salford kick on the fifth tackle that was dropping inside the 20-metre line. The ball broke to Kevin Brown of Salford, who gathered cleanly with three team-mates in support, and hardly any opposing tacklers to worry about. The ball was quickly worked left until James Greenwood was able to stroll in next to the posts. Suddenly, Salford were leading by 16 points to 12.
The lead did not last long however. Around six minutes later, Leeds pierced the middle of the Salford defence through a burst by Richie Myler, who crossed the Salford 20-metre line before being tackled. It was the fifth tackle, but Leeds decided to chance their arm, and produced another smooth passing move into a very crowded left corner, where Handley received the ball at the touchline with a small but decisive overlap, and he quickly darted over the line for the equalising score. The try was unconverted.
The two teams exchanged repeated sets-of-six as they focused on not being the team to make the key mistake. Then, with four-and-a-half minutes remaining, Leeds had the ball on the threshold of the Salford 20-metre line on the fifth tackle. The ball was swiftly worked to Gale in front of the posts, who kicked the drop goal that gave Leeds the single point they needed to take the lead again.
From there, time pressure pushed Salford into making mistakes to concede possession, and the Rhinos were able to bleed the clock down to the final hooter. It was Leeds’ thirteenth Challenge Cup triumph, and they move ahead of St. Helens to go second in the all-time list of winners, behind only Wigan Warriors (19).
NOTE: Fans of the 15-man code should please see issue 47 of The Word for coverage of the European Cup Final in the Rugby Union.
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