First published in the Saddleworth Independent
AND the winner of rugby league’s Challenge Cup in 2020 is… Saddleworth!
Sorry to end the dreams of anyone associated with Saddleworth Rangers, but there has not been a miraculous run to the final.
However, two of their products will step out on the hallowed turf of Wembley on Saturday, October 17 when Salford Red Devils face Leeds Rhinos.
For Mark Flanagan and James Greenwood will be going all out to complete a fairytale triumph of their own.
Salford Red Devils’ loose forward, Mark Flanagan
And on the opposite side will be Saddleworth-based Kevin Sinfield, whose off-field role is helping turn the Rhinos around.
The director of rugby lifted the trophy twice during an illustrious playing career, even winning the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match in 2005.
While the 40-year-old will not be taking the hits, his impact at the club where he is an on-field legend cannot be understated.
It also means a fine way to finish Flanagan’s playing career, which started back at Shaw Hall Bank Road.
The Salford back-rower has decided to hang up his boots at the end of the season at the age of 32.
And he recalled how heading to watch Bradford take on St Helens with father Terry, who Saddleworth Rangers’ clubhouse is named after, sparked his dreams.
He said: “I remember my dad taking me to watch the Bradford-Saints Wembley final when Steve Prescott scored a couple of tries and Robbie Paul got a hat-trick, and that fire was lit inside me that day of playing at Wembley and on the biggest stage.
“I’m not very sentimental in terms of matches, medals and shirts but playing at Wembley with a great group of blokes for a great club would be quite a fitting send-off for myself.
“It’s been a strange old year and there are a lot more important and sobering things happening in the world than for us to whinge about playing in an empty Wembley.
“I’d just be happy to play there and tell the kids and grandkids one day I played at Wembley. It would be a shame if it was only in front of 50 people, but I’d take it.
“I’m really content with what I’ve done in the game and I’ve exceeded all my expectations I had as a kid.
“I’ve far exceeded where I wanted to be, but you play rugby and sport to win things and I’ve always aspired to win both trophies.
“The Challenge Cup holds something a little bit special for me with the tradition around and it would be unbelievable to get there and get the win.
“I’m 32 now and I’ve a few niggling injuries. It’s probably time. It would be great to finish on a high with Salford.”
Flanagan reached Wembley as Salford saw off Warrington Wolves 24-22 in a nail-biting semi-final.
And his coach at Salford, Ian Watson, also admitted stepping out at Wembley would be a fine way for the man known as Flash to round off his career.
“What a way to finish for Mark. To finish playing at Super League level in a Wembley final,” he said.