Salford skipper Lee Mossop had sleepless nights over Covid-19 fears

Salford skipper Lee Mossop says he did not sleep for two nights after being told he may have contracted coronavirus on the eve of the Coral Challenge Cup final.

Mossop and co-captain Mark Flanagan were on tenterhooks for 48 hours after their Covid-19 tests twice came back inconclusive before they were eventually cleared to face Leeds at Wembley on Saturday.

“It was awful, honest to God,” the former Wigan and England forward told a press conference.

“I tend to be someone who doesn’t really get fazed by much or get stressed but I didn’t sleep for two nights. You had a 48-hour wait to see if you were able to play in one of the biggest occasions in rugby league.”

While there was relief for Mossop he has sympathy for team-mate Dan Sarginson who, along with back-up player Jack Ormondroyd, was ruled out of Wembley after his Covid-19 test came back positive.

“It’s absolutely devastating for them,” he said. “I rang Sarge and, although he was devastated at the start of the week, he’s managed to get his head round it.

Salford Red Devils v Warrington Wolves – Coral Challenge Cup – Semi Final – Totally Wicked Stadium
Salford Red Devils v Warrington Wolves – Coral Challenge Cup – Semi Final – Totally Wicked Stadium

“He was just petrified thinking he had possibly passed it on to me and Mark so, once we told him that we were fine, that was a massive relief. He said he wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he had brought it into the camp.

“I just feel for both of them, they’ve trained so hard, and Sarge in particular has been massive for us all season.”

The loss of Sarginson has been offset by the availability of Castleford-bound first-choice full-back Niall Evalds, who has made a quicker-than-expected recovery from a knee injury.

“It’s great to have Niall available,” coach Ian Watson said. “He has run all week and he looks really good.

Niall Evalds File Photo
Niall Evalds File Photo

“He was never ever expected to get back fit enough for Wembley but he’s worked so hard to put himself in this position.

“Obviously he’s leaving us at the end of the year so this could be a bit of a fairy tale for Niall.”

Salford’s march to their first Wembley appearance for 51 years comes just 12 months since they reached a maiden Grand Final but, after losing to St Helens at Old Trafford, Mossop says they need to win a trophy to prove they are a genuine top club.

“Almost immediately after the Grand Final last year we said we didn’t want it to be a flash in the pan,” he said.

“We want to start changing people’s perceptions of the club and to do that you’ve got to do these regularly.

“For it to mean anything and to have a solid effect, I think we have to win it tomorrow. We want to write our own history for ourselves but also for the club and the fans for what they’ve been through in recent years.”

Win or lose, former chairman John Wilkinson has already raised a glass to mark Salford’s achievement, thanks to a promise he made 33 years ago.

Wilkinson, who led the club for 31 years up to 2013, was given a special bottle of whisky by one of the club’s sponsors, Austin Wilkinson (no relation), in 1987 but was asked not to open it until the club next reached Wembley.

Austin Wilkinson died in 1990 but John kept the bottle locked away in a cupboard and on Thursday was joined by Austin’s eldest son James to raise a toast.

“Austin was a man of great character and what he said usually came to pass,” John said.

“I’m just so pleased to have unscrewed the top and been able to taste the wonderful whisky inside.

“We think that it could be getting on for 50 years of age because it had been bottled eight years before he purchased it but it really did live up to all our expectations.

“When Salford walk out at Wembley, on Saturday, I shall be filled with immense pride because it was always my ambition to try to achieve that.”

Rugby League – Engage Super League – Hull FC v Warrington Wolves – KC Stadium
Rugby League – Engage Super League – Hull FC v Warrington Wolves – KC Stadium

Wilkinson will join millions of fans watching the match on television after it was decided to play behind closed doors but the RFL has defended its decision to keep the final at Wembley and Leeds coach Richard Agar says it remains a great venue.

“It’s going to be a special occasion regardless, given what the whole game has been through to get the showpiece final on,” Agar said.

“If you go back to April say, there was probably some doubt that we’d even get back on the field so to be able to play in such a magnificent stadium in such a prestigious game is a real honour and privilege for us.

“Of course it’s disappointing the guys don’t get to walk out in front of a massive crowd and the families don’t get to experience it but, nevertheless, it’s a final that will go down in history because of the nature of it being behind closed doors.”

Probable line-ups for Saturday’s Coral Challenge Cup final at Wembley:

Leeds: Myler; T Briscoe, Hurrell, L Sutcliffe, Handley; Lui, Gale (capt); Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki, Mellor, Martin, Prior. Subs: Dwyer, Smith, Donaldson, Holroyd.

Salford: Evalds; Inu, Welham, Watkins, Williams; Lolohea, Brown; Mossop (capt), Lussick, Dudson, Greenwood, McCarthy, Yates. Subs: Flanagan, Ikahifiho, Pauli, Burke.

Referee: L Moore.