Ian Blease (pictured) believes Salford reaching the Challenge Cup Final might even exceed their achievement in making Old Trafford last year.
The Red Devils’ director of rugby and operations watched the club progress to Wembley for the first time in 51 years on Saturday with a stunning late 24-22 win over Warrington.
Salford defied the odds to reach last year’s Grand Final under coach Ian Watson, but Blease believes the fact that six of that side left for pastures new makes this latest accomplishment just as impressive.
Blease said: “Me and Watto (Ian Watson) 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.”
Blease knows all about Challenge Cup semi-finals with Salford from his playing days, after scoring his side’s only try in their 34-4 defeat to Wigan at Bolton’s Burnden Park in 1988.
He said: “I knew how much it meant to the people of Salford to get to Wembley, so I was trying my nuts off.
“Even though 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 happened – and we were a bit like the Salford team now.
“We didn’t have any stars, but we had a bit of experience and some homegrown players and even though we got battered it was a great experience.”
The only negative for Blease will be that the club’s fans will be unable to join them when they face Leeds on 17 October.
Blease 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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