Salford hoping to reach Challenge Cup final to reward fans after shutout in 2020
Fifty-one years of Wembley hurt was extinguished for Salford in the most bittersweet way in 2020 when supporters were locked out of their side’s first Challenge Cup final appearance since 1969 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is sure to be an additional incentive for Paul Rowley’s buoyant side as they head into Saturday lunchtime’s quarter-final against Hull KR at Craven Park with arguably their best opportunity yet to re-converge on the sport’s most enduring showpiece.
For the second consecutive season, Rowley’s Red Devils have shattered expectations and head into their last-eight clash against their injury-plagued opponents on the back of seven wins out of eight and sitting just two points off the Super League summit.
“It’s a rare occurrence for Salford to get to any cup final, so to do it when there are crowd restrictions, it would have been easy to fall into that trap of thinking it’s always us, and we’re unlucky as a club maybe,” said Rowley.
“It would be fantastic for the fans to experience what they were robbed of last time. But we really try and just focus on our jobs. It’s important we just stick to the task and don’t get derailed or carried away, and you just hope we take the opportunities when they come to us.”
Salford’s unfortunate recent history in the Challenge Cup can also be traced back to 1998, their best chance to repeat their previous final appearance, when they were edged out in the dying seconds of their semi-final by underdogs and eventual winners Sheffield Eagles.
Painful reminders of the importance of not getting carried away are illustrated on the balance sheet, which show Salford operating one of the tightest budgets in Super League.
They recently launched a community share offer scheme in a bid to become the top-flight’s first wholly fan-owned club.
In that context on-field results have been remarkable, as Rowley’s men have built on last year’s run to the play-off semi-finals with an expressive style of rugby that has won plaudits and points in equal measure, and which included a 26-16 win over Rovers two weeks ago at Magic Weekend.
For Rowley, a Wembley appearance would be a timely reward for the successes his current squad are fashioning against the odds on an almost weekly basis, as well as a welcome profile boost in an increasingly tough financial climate.
“There are no silver spoons at this club,” added Rowley. “We don’t have a carpet rolled out and we go into a rusty old gym and a team room that has nothing posh about it.
“Keeping our feet on the ground is never a difficult proposition. But as one of the old school people, the Challenge Cup was the thing you dreamed about growing up.
“The history and heritage that goes with it is something quite remarkable, and it’s something we want to continue. This is the first of three opportunities to win a trophy and I’d like any sort of success for this group because I think it’s a special one.”