With the Leeds Rhinos already through to the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, all attention turned to the afternoon’s second semi-final as the Salford Red Devils looked to make their second consecutive major final as they took on Wembley stalwarts, the Warrington Wolves.
Warrington were big favourites with the bookies, Salford languishing down the table in ninth place as opposed to the Wolves who are joint top. It is fifty years since Salford have been to Wembley for a Challenge Cup Final whereas Warrington went into the game as cup holders, looking for their third consecutive final. Salford won the midweek meeting between the two sides but that would count for little.
It was a massive game for both sides, and both coaches put out very strong sides.
Warrington started the game with the wind at their backs and came close on eight minutes when Matty Ashton chased down a Gareth Widdop grubber but the Wolves full back was unable to get his hand on the ball.
The defences were on top early but on eleven minutes Tyrone McCarthy was sin-binned for an attack to the knees in the tackle, and the advantage swung to the Wolves. Three plays after the yellow card Toby King found space on the overlap to dive over without a red hand laid on him. Stefan Ratchford added the conversion from wide for 6-0.
The Wolves were totally in charge with Blake Austin dominating. A clumsy Salford tackle gifted Ratchford another two points as he kicked a twenty metre penalty on nineteen minutes for an 8-0 lead.
Still a man down, the Red Devils showed that they would make a game of it when Kallum Watkins got hand on a bouncing ball after a kick through had evaded the Warrington defence. Krisnan Inu added the two pointer and after twenty-three minutes there was just two points between the sides.
Both sides were making handling errors in awful playing conditions but on thirty-five Blake Austin benefitted from a Dan Sarginson spilled ball as he threw the dummy and stretched for the line. Widdop added the conversion and Warrington had regained the eight point lead.
When the Wolves were caught offside ten from their own line with ninety seconds remaining Inu kicked the penalty goal to reduce the half time arrears to six points. Both sides still very much in the game at the break.
Two minutes after the restart Inu rose to collect a Kevin Brown kick to the corner from the air and drop over the line. The Salford winger was unable to convert his own try, Salford still two behind on the scoreboard.
A Warrington penalty from the boot of Widdop on fifty minutes doubled the Wolves lead to four points, a sign of how close the game had become.
Another Sarginson mistake on sixty-one, knocking the ball on close to his own line gifted Ben Murdoch-Masila a four pointer as he went over the top of the Red Devils defence and grounded on his back. Widdop added the goal for a ten point lead.
Salford got back to back sets on the Wolves line on sixty-four and a pinpoint accurate grubber from Brown was grounded by the fingertips of James Greenwood for a never say die Red Devils. Inu added the goal.
Into the last ten minutes the game was still in the balance.
Austin put a kick into touch out on the full on seventy-three and three plays in Joey Lussick scooted from acting half back to score under the big H. Inu added the goal and for the first time in the game the Red Devils had the lead with a shade over five minutes left on the clock.
Salford defended those last five minutes heroically to take the win, Salford heading to the Final.
The conditions were the great leveller but take nothing away from a dogged Salford team performance as they refused to accept defeat and fought back against every Warrington set back to take the win and make it to Wembley for the first time I’m fifty years. The cup holders are out, in a game that they should have won easily, both underdogs winning their respective semi-finals to set up a Leeds v. Salford Challenge Cup Final.
Warrington Wolves: Ashton, Charnley, Gelling, King (T), Mamo, Ratchford (2G), Widdop (3G), Hill, Clark D, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Austin (T). Subs: Murdoch-Masila (T), Clark J, Philbin, Walker.
Salford Red Devils: Sarginson, Williams, Watkins (T), Welham, Inu (T, 4G), Lolohea, Brown, Mossop, Lussick (T), Dudson, McCarthy (SB on 11), Greenwood (T), Flanagan. Subs: Burke, Ikahihifo, Kear, Pauli.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Ground: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens.