|Leeds (12) 17|
|Tries: Handley 2, Briscoe Goals: Martin 2 Drop-goal: Gale|
|Salford (6) 16|
|Tries: Williams, Pauli, Greenwood Goals: Inu 2|
Luke Gale kicked a late drop-goal as Leeds rallied to beat Salford and win a first Challenge Cup in five years.
Ash Handley scored two of the Rhinos’ three tries, while fellow winger Tom Briscoe broke a Wembley record with his seventh try in a Challenge Cup final.
Salford briefly led when Pauli Pauli and James Greenwood both scored to build on Wales winger Rhys Williams’ stunning breakaway first-half try.
But Handley’s second try to go to 16-16 was followed by Gale’s one-pointer.
Gale was just wide with his first attempt at the sticks but when he had another effort, this one sailed over, to leave last year’s beaten Super League Grand Finalists Salford heartbroken in their first Wembley final since 1969.
Leeds legend Burrow honoured at final
By contrast, this was Leeds’ sixth final in 11 years, the previous five of which had all involved their little legend Rob Burrow.
The former scrum-half, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year, was due to be present at Wembley as guest of honour.
But, although he was kept away from the empty stadium on the big day, he was still honoured at rugby league’s first Covid-19 final ‘in absentia’.
And, in a stunning contest which swung both ways, it was the sort of battling spirit engendered by Burrow in his playing days that helped Leeds earn their 14th Challenge Cup triumph – now within five of the record 19 held by Wigan.
It was also somehow fitting that Leeds’ best player – and a deserving winner of the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match – was Richie Myler, who, although now playing at full-back, has spent most of his career playing in Burrow’s old role at half-back.
Myler stars in seesaw game
Myler had a hand in both Handley’s tries, although it was Konrad Hurrell’s superb offload that got Briscoe in at the right corner for the opener.
That meant another Wembley record for Briscoe, his seventh Challenge Cup final try overtaking a Wigan great from the 1980s, Kevin Iro, who three times recorded Wembley doubles.
Most of Briscoe’s magnificent seven scores came when he set the individual final record with five against Hull KR in 2015.
But, after Rhyse Martin’s conversion went in off the post, Briscoe was then outshone with one of the great Wembley tries by Williams.
Almost on his own goal line, a clean take from Leeds old boy Kallum Watkins allowed him to slip a pass to Niall Evalds, he moved the ball on and Williams was away, going almost the whole length to touch down under the posts, for Krisnan Inu to add the conversion.
Handley then earned Leeds a 12-6 half-time lead when he got in at the left corner after a stunning pass from Myler, to which Martin added the extras.
Leeds then got hit by two tries in five minutes, with first Pauli coming off the bench to power over, although Inu crucially missed the kick.
Myler then failed to collect a high kick under pressure from Kevin Brown, the ball was moved left and Greenwood got over by the posts, Inu this time converting.
But Leeds hit back with a second try for Handley, with Myler again the architect, before Gale’s second late drop-kick attempt proved the match-winner.
Burrow ‘Leeds’ inspiration’ – post-match reaction
Leeds full-back and Lance Todd Trophy winner Richie Myler told BBC One:
“It was close and I’m overwhelmed. We’ve got a special group of boys. Credit to Salford, that was a hell of a game.
“When adversity comes, you either stick in there or make a thing of it. Twelve months of hard work has got me here.
“I’m in a special team. The way Luke Gale and Robert Lui controlled the game really helps me play my game.”
Leeds head coach Richard Agar told BBC One:
“Luke’s come up with a massive play for us. I’m so proud of everything that they’ve cultivated and nurtured within the group. We weren’t perfect but we showed resilience when we had to.
“Rob Burrow is with us in spirit at the moment. He’s been an inspiration for us on this run.”
Salford head coach Ian Watson told BBC One: “There were small margins. We just didn’t build any pressure on them, we came up with some poor last plays and they took advantage.
“The boys didn’t lack effort, they were just not smart enough.
“It’s disappointing with the history surrounding the Challenge Cup, because winning it is a special thing for anybody.”
Salford captain Lee Mossop told BBC One: “We’re devastated. We’ve worked hard to get here. To fall at the last hurdle is heartbreaking.
“It was probably the first half that took too much energy out of us and Luke Gale had a free shot, he wasn’t going to miss that.”
Leeds: Myler; Briscoe, Hurrell, L Sutcliffe, Handley; Lui, Gale (capt); Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki, Mellor, Martin, Prior.
Interchanges: Dwyer, A Sutcliffe, Donaldson, Cuthbertson.
Salford: Evalds; Williams, Watkins, Welham, Inu; Lolohea, Brown; Mossop (capt), Lussick, Dudson, McCarthy, Greenwood, Flanagan.
Interchanges: Ikahahifo, Pauli, Yates, Burke.
Referee: Liam Moore.