Ian Blease relishing Salford success against the odds after ending Wembley exile

Ian Blease was four years old and the Beatles were number one in the charts the last time Salford reached the Challenge Cup final.

The Red Devils director came within touching distance of getting there as a player in 1988, scoring the only try in a one-sided semi-final defeat to a Wigan team at the start of eight years of unrivalled dominance.

As such, Blease knows exactly how deeply Saturday’s stunning 24-22 win over Warrington will resonate with the club’s supporters after a 51-year wait. Late tries from James Greenwood and Joey Lussick sealed a stirring late comeback for the Red Devils after holders Warrington looked set for a third straight final.

He said: “I knew how much it meant to the people of Salford to get to Wembley back in 1988 so I was trying my nuts off. Even thought we lost it was a great occasion because I was only a young kid.

“Wigan were full of stars – somebody sent me the programme the other day as it happens – and we were a bit like the Salford team now. We didn’t have any stars, we had a bit of experience and some homegrown players and even though we got battered it was a great experience.”

Fast forward 32 years and Blease has played an integral role in Salford’s fairytale recovery from near relegation in 2016. Working alongside his old Red Devils team-mate, coach Ian Watson, the pair have helped steer the club to successive major finals against the odds.

And given that six of the team from last year’s Super League Grand Final left for pastures new, Blease believes this year’s achievements might yet rank even higher.

He said: “Me and Watto talk about this a lot – we have to rebuild virtually every other year. We had the spine of the team ripped out of us but once we both got our heads around it and knew what was happening we recruited well.

“We brought in some experience and class. Kevin Brown is a classic example – we took a bit of stick but we knew what we were doing, he’s a winner.

“Getting to the Grand Final was a massive achievement but this feels even more so because it’s the Challenge Cup for some reason. Wembley has got the glitz and the glamour – the history of the cup makes it special in rugby league.

“Credit to the boys they dug so deep with their efforts against a classy Warrington side. We shouldn’t even be on the same pitch on them when you look at what they spend and what we spend.

“I’m made up for Watto, he’s done a great job as a coach – he’s worked his socks off all year and it’s certainly recognised by me.”

The only negative for Blease will be that the club’s fans will be unable to join them when they face Leeds in less than two weeks’ time. He added: “It’s such a shame for them, and it’s bittersweet in that sense – I’m gutted for them.

“But I’m glad the RFL has managed to keep the game at Wembley. For the players this might be their only chance to play there and that’s still massive for them.”

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