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Challenge Cup: Final Richie's voice has Leeds partying all night long

In a first since the initial Lance Todd Trophy was awarded for the Challenge Cup final man of the match in 1946 - the winner got votes for his talk on the field.

Journalists decide who gets the award and with the world’s most famous stadium almost completely empty yesterday, they could hear just about every cajoling word Leeds Rhinos fullback Richie Myler shouted as the Yorkshire team denied Salford a fairytale via a 75th-minute field goal, 17-16.

"I didn’t realise what a general he is - you can hear him telling Robert Lui where to stand in defence on almost every tackle," one astonished colleague remarked at half-time.

At the very start of a day with no NRL action, there were plenty of narratives in the 2020 final of the rugby league’s greatest knockout competition.

The 27-year-old referee, Liam Moore, caught Salford’s former Parramatta and Newcastle giant Pauli Pauli not playing the ball correctly - an oft-repeated crime each week on both sides of the world - and Leeds marched the ball upfield for halfback Luke Gale to pot the winning point.

"It’s absolutely fitting a No.7 kicks a drop goal for Leeds to win a game," said Rhinos football director Kevin Sinfield, in reference to former half Rob Burrow whose battle with motor neurone disease has captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.

Rhinos captain Luke Gale with coach Richard Agar and Lance Todd Trophy winner Richie Myler after their side defeated Salford in the Challenge Cup final.
Rhinos captain Luke Gale with coach Richard Agar and Lance Todd Trophy winner Richie Myler after their side defeated Salford in the Challenge Cup final. ©photosport.co.nz

The RFL designated Burrow the Cup final official guest "in absentia" and the victorious players saluted a giant jersey with his name on it, near where the royal box would normally be, as they left the deserted arena.

Salford half Kevin Brown has now lost four finals with four clubs - "it’s as low as I’ve felt, in rugby and in life in general … I don’t know how many more of these I can take," he said as the shadows lengthened.

After the Red Devils posted a remarkable 98-metre try in the first half and hit the front in the 57th minute, Salford had their chances - most notably when Kallum Watkins skipped into the clear but passed behind the scorer of that earlier touchdown, Rhys Williams, with nine minutes left.

But you knew that if you watched the game on television. Even the media conferences and "mixed zone" for player interviews were conducted via Zoom with there being no practical benefit to be had for a reporter to be at the venue.

Direct contact with the participants was forbidden for all but the BBC.

So the real story on Saturday night, the thing which set the 2020 Challenge Cup final apart from every one since the first in 1897, was that there were no fans there to watch it - and there were no scrums.

Every official and media representative lined up for 90 minutes before kick-off outside the Club Wembley entrance, underneath the famous walkway at the end of Olympic Way.

Leeds centre Konrad Hurrell is tackled by Salford's James Greenwood and Kevin Brown.
Leeds centre Konrad Hurrell is tackled by Salford's James Greenwood and Kevin Brown. ©photosport.co.nz

Many kept with tradition by wearing their best suits for the big day, even though the Long Room was closed and not an oyster or bottle of champagne would be consumed.

And each individual was interviewed by a medical officer inside a health clearance centre before collecting their accreditation. Media representatives had to wear masks at all times and not leave their assigned seats except to go to the toilet.

As has been the case since Super League resumed after lockdown, despite there being only a few dozen people inside the stadium a ground announcer was employed and music was piped in.

Knees were taken for Black Lives Matter, with all observing. Fireworks ignited when tries were scored, the Challenge Cup hymn “Abide With Me” was performed via a taped performance from Lizzie Jones, whose husband died after playing a game in 2015.

And when former Parramatta star Krisnan Inu made an early break, his fullback Niall Evalds shouted "Krisnan, Krisnan!" - not "Kris" - as he called for a centre-kick.

The ball was safely fielded by the eventual match-winner. As well as we could hear Richie Myler, Luke Gale could hear Evalds.

LEEDS 17 (Ash Handley 2, Tom Briscoe tries; Rhyse Martin 2 goals; Luke Gale field goal) defeated SALFORD 16 (Rhys Williams, Pauli Pauli, James Greenwood tries; Krisnan Inu 2 goals) at Wembley Stadium. Referee: Liam Moore.