The outcome, though, was tough on Salford playmaker Kevin Brown, who has now experienced the heartache of defeat in four Challenge Cup finals with four different clubs.
Salford created the first scoring opportunity when winger Krisnan Inu broke through the Leeds line but full-back Niall Evalds, so impressive on his return from a six-week injury absence, was unable to collect his kick with a try beckoning.
The Rhinos made the most of the let-off as centre Konrad Hurrell produced a clever one-handed pass to get long-serving right winger Tom Briscoe, their five-try hero from 2015, over for his seventh cup final try.
Rhyse Martin’s conversion attempt went in off the far upright to make it 6-0 but the Red Devils drew level against the run of play on 18 minutes when former Leeds centre Kallum Watkins gathered Gale’s attacking kick and Evalds demonstrated quick thinking to get winger Rhys Williams sprinting 90 metres for a glorious try.
Inu’s conversion levelled the scores but Leeds had a try from substitute James Donaldson disallowed for a double movement before creating an overlap for left winger Handley to score his first try 10 minutes before half-time, when they led 12-6.
It was an accurate reflection of the opening half but the Red Devils are nothing if not resilient and they hit back with two tries in six minutes to go in front.
Burly substitute Pauli Pauli took Tui Lolohea’s pass and proved unstoppable from 15 metres out for the first, and second rower James Greenwood grabbed the second when full-back Richie Myler had failed to deal with Lolohea’s high kick.
Inu converted Greenwood’s try to make it 16-12 but it was level once more on 64 minutes when man of the match Myler worked Handley over for his second try to set up a tense finale.
Gale was wide with his first drop-goal attempt and, after Watkins almost created a second try for Williams, the former Castleford scrum-half found the target with five minutes left to break the deadlock.
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