THIS FRIDAy will see Leeds Rhinos face a touring team for the first time in 21 years, when New Zealand visit Headingley Carnegie.
Until the start of the summer era, tours were a regular part of the rugby league calendar and as well as playing Test matches against Great Britain, visiting teams also took on clubs from the top division.
The last time such a tour took place was in 1994, when Leeds were beaten 48-6 by the Kangaroo tourists. But four years earlier, on October 21, 1990, the Loiners gave a much better account of themselves.
In front of a crowd of 16,037, Leeds had the Kangaroos rocking for a while, before going down to a highly creditable 22-10 defeat. The way Leeds played that afternoon served as an inspiration for Great Britain, who achieved a memorable 19-12 win over Australia at Wembley the following weekend.
Australia hadn’t lost a tour match – to a club team or Great Britain – since 1978, but were in deep trouble after 18 minutes when, inspired by strong-running second-rower Paul Dixon, Leeds led 10-0.
Leeds’ line-up included former All Black John Gallagher at full-back and he raced over for the opening try, off a brilliant pass from Garry Schofield.
That had the crowd on their feet and soon afterwards Gary Belcher failed to deal with Schofield’s kick and the ball fell to Dixon, whose try was improved by Simon Irving.
Leeds continued to take the game to the tourists, but a mistake by Steve Molloy handed a reviving try to giant forward Paul Sironen, which Mal Meninga improved – for the first of his three goals – to cut the hosts’ advantage at the break to four points.
The Loiners led until the 49th minute, when Sironen managed to get through Gallagher’s tackle for the tourists’ second try and from then on the result was never really in doubt, though Leeds refused to give in and pushed the Kangaroos all the way.
Phil Ford and Irving both went close to snatching interceptions which might have led to tries, but another forward – Bob Lindner – went in for a third try and Meninga sealed the win off good work by Belcher.
It had been a disappointing start to the season for Leeds, but their performance that afternoon showed they could compete with the best. Schofield and Dixon both impressed and Carl Gibson, Roy Powell and Ford also caused the Aussies problems. There were even calls for Gallagher to be drafted into the Great Britain Test team after a fine display.
October 21, 1990
Leeds 10 (Tries Gallagher, Dixon. Goal Irving), Australia 22 (Tries Sironen 2, Lindner, Meninga. Goals Meninga 3).
Referee: Ray Tennant. Attendance: 16,037.