ONLY SIX Leeds players have won the Lance Todd Trophy as Challenge Cup final man of the match.
The fourth of those – and first as a member of a losing team – was Gary Connolly, who was full-back for Rhinos in the 2003 defeat by Bradford Bulls at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Connolly made just 33 appearances for Leeds in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, after signing on Boxing Day, 2002.
Though born in St Helens, he is best known as a member of the all-conquering Wigan sides of the mid-1990s.
He played for his home town side against Wigan in the 1989 Challenge Cup final aged just 17 and moved clubs for a £250,000 fee four years later.
Equally at home as a full-back or centre, Connolly was a Wembley runner-up twice with Saints – both against Wigan – and then played in three winning finals for the Cherry and Whites, including the 1994 and 1995 successes against Leeds.
With Wigan he also won the Championship three times, Super League Grand Final (against Leeds in 1998), Premiership Trophy four times (including the 1995 humiliation of Leeds), Regal Trophy twice and World Club Challenge.
Rhinos signed Connolly to bring experience to a young backline, under rookie coach Daryl Powell.
He made a big impression in his debut campaign, scoring seven tries in 30 appearances and being named in the Super League Dream team.
Connolly was at the heart of an impressive start to the season which saw Leeds win their opening 10 games. Agonisingly, their first defeat came in the Cup final, when they were pipped 22-20.
Bulls made a strong start, taking a 6-0 lead, but Connolly dummied over from acting-half for an equalising try, despite suggestions of a double movement.
Connolly’s touchdown, his defensive resilience and his efforts to get Leeds back in the game when Bulls led by eight points in the second half earned him his man of the match honour, one vote ahead of Bradford forward Jamie Peacock.
For the first time the Lance Todd trophy was presented at the end of the game, before Bulls had received the Cup and it was obvious from his body language that the award was little consolation to Connolly.
Capped 31 times by Great Britain, Connolly began the 2004 season as a Leeds player, but new coach Tony Smith was keen to give youngster Richard Mathers an opportunity at full-back and the veteran was released after just three appearances that term.
He rejoined Wigan for the remainder of the 2004 season and finished his league career with a spell at Widnes, though he later had a stint with Munster in the 15-a-side game.
Connolly is due to play for a Legends team in a curtain-raiser to Friday’s clash between Wigan and Leeds at DW Stadium, in aid of the Joining Jack charity.