Written by Callum Walker
There will be no crowd for the first time in a Challenge Cup Final as Leeds Rhinos take on Salford Red Devils at Wembley on Saturday afternoon. But, it is still going to be a special occasion and perhaps one of the most tensely fought battles in the competition’s recent history.
It’s been 51 years since Salford made the Challenge Cup final, and five for Leeds so at least there will be a different name on the trophy for the first time since 2015. It’s not just the thrill of a potentially mouthwatering clash, it’s also the idea that whichever side does win it, it will cap off a fairytale run for either coach.
Ian Watson has taken the Red Devils from bottom-of-the-table strugglers to grand finalists in the space of just three seasons whilst Richard Agar has transformed Leeds from mid-table lightweights back into what looks like a champion side in barely a season-and-half. If those aren’t success stories then what can rightfully be labelled one?
As a neutral, it will be exciting to watch these two sides go hammer and tong at each other for 80 minutes or perhaps longer, particularly with how well both played in the semi-finals. Leeds’ destruction of Wigan certainly wound the clock back to the good old days for Rhinos fans whilst Salford’s last-gasp triumph over Warrington was definitely against the script.
Both teams are a great example of what good leadership looks like; experienced stars on both sides such as Leeds’ Luke Gale and Robert Lui and Salford’s Krisnan Inu and Kevin Brown have been playing out of their skins in recent weeks so it will be majorly interesting to see how the game develops.
👊 It's back…
— The Coral Challenge Cup (@TheChallengeCup) October 15, 2020
Of course, the absence of a crowd may well dampen the atmosphere for those out on the field, but for some that could come as a blessing in disguise. In the past, some players have become overawed with the occasion as playing in front of over 90,000 fans can make or break a career. Wembley is still a daunting prospect, but a more free-flowing and less nervy game may well be thrust upon the viewer without thousands sat in the stands.
Then you look at the man in the middle. Liam Moore has been the standout referee in Super League this year and he has been rightly rewarded with the most prestigious gig in rugby league. Known for letting games flow, Moore is the right person for the job and will handle the spectacle superbly.
The stage is set for the weirdest cup final in its 123-year history, but it also promises to be one of the most entertaining. My advice to the rugby league fraternity: sit back and watch.