Four years ago this week, Salford Red Devils and Mark Flanagan stared into the abyss.
Eight points down to Hull KR with just two minutes remaining of the relegation-deciding Million Pound Game, they faced an uncertain future.
But two tries in the desperate closing stages – the second created by Flanagan – took the game to golden point extra time, where Gareth O’Brien slotted an iconic long-range drop goal.
Fast-forward four years and coach Ian Watson is 80 minutes away from guiding Salford to their second straight major final after reaching Old Trafford last October. Flanagan admitted: “I couldn’t have seen us challenging for finals back then.
“I always knew that the club had potential to grow with Watto and the backroom staff, but to do it in such a short space of time is great.
“It’s four years since that Million Pound Game and it was a Sliding Doors moment for the club. Had we not won that match and Gareth O’Brien hadn’t kicked that drop goal, we would have been relegated, and there’s a good chance we'd have had massive financial issues as Marwan (Koukash) was going to leave the club.
“It could have ended so differently. But it did go our way, we’ve grown year on year and we’re in a good position now.
“It’s one game I do look back on – people have said we must have been so chuffed to win but it was just relief. I still had a job for the next season and the club and the fans still had a future and something to support. It was an unbelievable day and something I’ll never forget.”
Flanagan – who last week announced he will retire at the end of the season – has further reason to be successful against Warrington on Saturday. The 32-year-old won a Grand Final with St Helens but has never reached Wembley after three Challenge Cup semi-final defeats.
He added: “In the first one I came off the bench for Wigan and we lost to Warrington in 2009. I naively thought that semi-finals and finals come round all the time – I thought there was always next year or the year after. I’ve still not got to that final 11 years on.
“You take things for granted when you’re younger, and when you look back on your career, you think of all the what ifs. On all those occasions we weren’t good enough to get to the finals.”
Flanagan is hoping that changes against the Wolves.
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