Bygones: Medley’s impact from the bench helped Leeds turn defeat into victory

Rhinos' Chev Walker prepares to take on Bradfords Shane Rigon in 2001.
Rhinos' Chev Walker prepares to take on Bradfords Shane Rigon in 2001.
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IN THE late 1980s, rugby league was changing.

Full-time professionalism was just around the corner, a new breed of coach had started to take over and fresh tactics were being introduced.

Among those was the use of tactical substitutions.

Substitutes were introduced in 1964, when clubs were allowed to include two players on the bench. But they could only come on in case of injuries suffered before half-time.

From the following year they were allowed for any reason up to and including half-time and in 1969 players could be brought off the bench at any time, as a tactic or due to injury.

In 1988 two subs were still allowed, but coaches were starting to use them as impact players.

An example of that came in Leeds’ remarkable Yorkshire Cup first-round win over Bradford Northern at Headingley, on September 18.

Malcolm Reilly, Leeds’ coach, fielded a strong side, with two pacy forwards, youngster Paul Medley and Kiwi Mark Brooke-Cowden, on his bench.

For most of the game Leeds looked to be heading for what Yorkshire Evening Post writer Trevor Watson described as their “traditional” Headingley loss to Bradford.

With 57 minutes played, the visitors led 21-8 and there seemed to be no possible way back for Leeds.

But then Reilly made a double change, bringing on Medley in place of Lee Crooks and Brooke-Cowden for Gary Price.

Watson wrote: “The game took on a whole new appearance as the Northern pack folded to be given the run-around in the last quarter.”

Despite only being on the field 23 minutes, Medley was named man of the match for his game-changing performance.

Initially he was heavily involved in a stunning move which led to a reviving score for full-back Gary Spencer.

Then he charged down Harry Pinner’s kick and held off Keith Mumby and Brian Noble for a try which got Leeds to within touching distance.

He still wasn’t finished, combining with Dave Heron to create a winning touchdown for David Stephenson, who also booted four goals in the tie, including a couple off the touchline.

Leeds had made a good start with a try by Carl Gibson, off good play from Crooks, Ray Ashton and Garry Schofield, but Northern – who only used one sub – began to dominate after that.

Steve McGowan, Richard Francis, Paul Harkin and Karl Fairbank were Northern’s try scorers. David Hobbs landed two goals and Harkin added a one-pointer.

Lois Forsell

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