Rugby League: Eagles break new ground

Salford Reds 18 Sheffield Eagles 22
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The Independent Online
DALE LAUGHTON, the only South Yorkshireman in the side, crashed through the geographical barrier to make Sheffield the first club from beyond the game's traditional boundaries to reach the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final.

Salford were close enough to their first final for 29 years to smell the onions frying on Wembley Way when two tries in as many minutes snatched the prize from them. Eight points up and apparently in control, they were hit first by Nick Pinkney's kick inside which bounced up perfectly for Mark Aston to run behind the posts and leave himself a simple goal.

Salford had still not recovered from that when, with less than 10 minutes to go, Laughton as powerful a presence throughout as he had been in the victory at Castleford in the last round, charged on to John Lawless's pass and forced his way through two tackles to score.

It was a match - and particularly a finish - that deserved better than the lowest recorded crowd for a semi-final. The long-term benefits for the game in Sheffield and beyond should outweigh the embarrassment of the sparsely filled terraces at Headingley yesterday.

The first half was a finely balanced affair with Sheffield going ahead after they had withstood an early siege from Salford. Darren Turner was the architect of the game's opening try, making a break that was kept alive by Dave Watson and Waisale Sovatabua before Whetu Taewa arrived in support to score.

That lead only lasted four minutes, until Darren Rogers outjumped Pinkney to take Josh White's kick and touch down. Steve Blakeley, like Aston before him, could not add the goal points, but the Salford midfield triangle of which he forms part was gradually asserting itself.

A little more than midway through the half, it was Blakeley's dart from dummy half at Martin Crompton's astute switch of play that sent White through for the converted try that put Salford in the lead for the first time.

The arrival of Michael Jackson from the bench proved the catalyst that got Sheffield back on terms before half time. Salford conceded possession and Jackson, three minutes after coming on, backed up Matt Crowther to take a clever pass as the Eagles' centre was tackled, Aston this time landing the goal.

Salford edged back into the lead at the start of the second half with drop goals from Crompton and Blakeley. And when Peter Edwards managed by a matter of fractions of an inch, to get over the try line for Salford, and Blakeley added the goal, they thought they were there, but the upstart from beyond the pale had other ideas, achieving the greatest moment of their 14-year history as Aston and Laughton saw them home.

A confused finish saw spectators on the field and the referee, Stuart Cummings, knocked over in the rush. He was described by the League's spokesman, Dave Callaghan, as "shaken but not seriously hurt" after the incident.

The spectator involved in the incident was taken into police custody and the League have launched an investigation into the ease with which fans were able to get on to the pitch.

Sheffield: Sovatabua; Pinkney, Taewa, Crowther, Sodje; Watson, Aston; P Broadbent, Turner, Laughton, Carr, Shaw, Doyle. Substitutes used: Lawless, Jackson, Wood.

Salford: G Broadbent; Coussons, Naylor, McAvoy, Rogers; Blakeley, White; Platt, Edwards, Eccles, Hulme, Bradbury, Crompton. Substitutes used: Faimalo, Savelio, Forber.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).