UNTIL THIS season, when they lost at home to Warrington Wolves, Leeds Rhinos had an impressive record in Super League round one.
Their previous defeat in the opening game of the league season was 16 years ago, on March 3, 2000, when Wakefield Trinity Wildcats stunned Dean Lance’s men 22-18 at Headingley.
It wasn’t actually Leeds first fixture that year. At the time the Challenge Cup was played as a pre- and early-season competition, with the final in May.
Rhinos began life under Lance, who had succeeded Graham Murray, with a 48-12 victory at Featherstone Rovers and then edged past St Helens 26-20 at Headingley, thanks to a stoppage-time try by Adrian Morley.
With that result behind them Leeds were expected to be too strong for Wakefield, who had been thumped 46-0 by Bradford Bulls in the fifth round of the Cup.
But, coached by Andy Kelly, Wildcats had other ideas. They had a new-look, expensively assembled team, which included Steve Prescott (signed from Hull), Ryan Hudson (Huddersfield), Francis Maloney (Castleford), Warren Jowitt (Bradford), Martin Masella (Leeds), Tony Tatupu (Auckland), Paul Sampson (Wasps Rugby Union) and Steve McNamara (Bradford).
They had also publicly announced bids to sign rugby union superstar Jonah Lomu and Newcastle Knights’ Andrew and Matthew Johns.
The spending spree was to lead to a financial crisis later in the season, but right at the start it appeared Wildcats had a team who could compete with the best.
Inspired by McNamara, they caught Rhinos cold and led 12-0 at half-time through tries by Francis Stephenson, after only two minutes and Adam Hughes, mid-way through the half.
Sampson increased the visitors’ lead six minutes into the second half, but then Leeds clicked into gear.
Tries by Andy Hay, Jamie Mathiou and Francis Cummins, plus three Cummins conversions, levelled the scores with 10 minutes remaining.
It looked like Rhinos would snatch the game from the fire, but in the final moments Maloney attempted a one-pointer, Rhinos could not clear the danger and McNamara crossed for the winning try, to go with three earlier goals.
Leeds Rhinos 18
(Tries: Hay, Mathiou, Cummins. Goals: Cummins 3)
Wakefield Wildcats 22 (Tries: Stephenson, Hughes, Sampson, McNamara. Goals: McNamara 3)
Super League March 3, 2000
Leeds Rhinos: St Hilaire, Cummins, Blackmore, Bell, Senior, Powell, Sheridan, Fleary, Farrell, McDermott, Morley, Barnhill, Hay. Subs: Jackson, Pratt, Mathiou, Sinfield. Wakefield Wildcats: Prescott, Sampson, Tatupu, Hughes, Law, Maloney, Tomlinson, Stephenson, Hudson, Fisher, Jowitt, Poching, McNamara. Subs: Masella, Field, Price, P March.
Referee: Steve Ganson.