It always used to be the late Gus Risman’s concluding comment, having presided once again, as Chairman of the Red Devils Association, over the presentation of the Lance Todd Trophy to the player voted the best in that year’s Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, that hopefully the following year would see the recipient being either a Salford player, or a Salford born player.
As we all know, that sadly never happened, but it would surely have astonished Gus were he to have known that it would be nearly forty years after his passing before there would even be the likelihood of it being a Salford player.
This year’s Final, therefore, had not only the relish of our fifty-one year wait to return to Wembley, but also the added spice of the possibility that one of our players might actually fulfil Gus Risman’s dream.
For this is no ordinary Man of the Match award. This is the Lance Todd Trophy whose history goes back to 1946, long before regular awards were ever first countenanced in the early seventies, and alongside the Harry Sunderland Trophy (for the outstanding player in the Championship Final), was one of the two major individual awards available to players of that post-war generation.
It was however, of the two, always the Lance Todd Trophy which was the pinnacle of any player’s ambition.
In the words of former recipient, Alex Murphy: “There are those players who get to play at Wembley, which is a great honour, but there are far fewer ever get to win the Lance Todd Trophy.”
So with hope burning bright in my heart, I determined to follow through the behind the scenes process, with the aid of Gary Carter of The Sun newspaper, as it is members of the media who democratically select the winner on the day.
Having been involved in the process for a number of years, Gary is all too aware of the history and exceedingly high profile of the award, and therefore the responsibility which goes with his judgement.
“I never come to a Final with a prior opinion as to who might win it. I always start the game with an open mind, and just watch to see which players come to the fore,” said Carter, prior to this year’s final.
“As far as the possibility of a Salford player winning it, with the game so evenly balanced, I would say that the odds are even that this year it could go to a player on either side.
“It frequently turns out to be the halfbacks, fullbacks, or wingers who get the award, but there have been occasions, such as with Jeff Lima, a prop, who have won it, so it isn’t necessarily going to be someone from one of the expected positions. As far as I’m concerned, whoever is the best player on the day gets my vote.
“It will very much depend upon how the game goes, as to when I will finalise my choice. If, for example, it’s 30-0 by half time, it would be logical to be looking at each player’s contribution to the team in the lead, and moving towards a choice from them. Normally though, it would be about an hour into the game before I will start noticing individuals who have played well, and will then start evaluating one against another.
“I also keep referring back to my notes as reminders as to what has taken place, and with whom. Usually though, it’s three-quarters of the way in when the game changes and you can see who is responsible for that.
“The most obvious winner there has ever been, for me, was Tom Briscoe when he scored those five tries. You just can’t overlook something like that. Even a hat-trick would warrant the scorer not being over-looked.
“What makes this award stand out above all other Man of the Match awards is the fact that it is here at Wembley. Whoever wins it today will be Man of the Match – at Wembley, in the Cup Final. Only the very best players tend to perform on the biggest of occasions, so this is a game which separates the good players from the very best. There are certainly players of that calibre in the Salford team, who could turn the game.”
Three hours later, and the Leeds fullback, Richie Myler, had been voted the Lance Todd Trophy winner, and Gary returned to explain how the process had resulted in this.
“I voted for Richard Myler, and I came around to making the decision as early as half-time. He was certainly most impressive during the first half and his only error in the second half was letting one kick bounce, which gave Salford a try.
“It wasn’t only what he did as a player, it was the way he just talked Leeds through the game. He made individual contributions with ball in hand, and without ball in hand he was preventing Niall Evalds from scoring by leaping in the air to take Niall’s kick from over his head, and then returning the ball upfield for about ten to twenty metres. That was an absolutely key contribution, but he also assisted in a couple of tries as well.
“Although he was the stand-out player, had Leeds lost I think Niall Evalds, who had made a similar contribution to the Salford side, would have come into close contention, and I would probably have voted for him. It was always going to be one of those two, though Kallum Watkins had a noticeably good game, too.
“The voting slips were collected from us 75 minutes into the game, and the results were:
1 Richard Myler 12 votes
2 Luke Gale 8 votes
3= Niall Evalds 2 votes Ash Handley 2 votes
Carter added: “The voting is confined to members of the Rugby League Writers & Broadcaster Association, though because of the Covid situation, not all of them were able to attend, so there was the opportunity for the others to vote online, which some of them did.”
The task of organising the presentation of the trophy now rests with the Salford Red Devils Ex-Players Association, through the Salford Red Devils Foundation, and in particular John Blackburn. For him, the restrictions of Covid19 instigated a complete departure from previous seasons, and a total rethink of how to proceed this year, as he now explains:
“Normally it would have started with us picking up the trophy from last year’s winner, Daryl Clark, but we were unable to do that, so the RFL did that for us and took it down to Wembley. We would usually have done that also, and the sponsor would have gone down at the same time.
“At the end of the game, there could be no actual presentations as such, so Richard Myler had to collect it from a table once his name had been announced as the winner. It was all rather surreal really.
“At the present time, we are unable to hold the usual Lance Todd Presentation Dinner where the presentation of the trophy would have actually taken place, and where we would also have presented him with a Lance Todd Winners tie. Last year’s winner would normally undertake the presentation, and he would, in turn have been presented with a replica of the trophy to keep.
“Hopefully in the summer we will do some kind of celebration dinner for Richard and get a few former winners to come along to join us.”