RUGBY LEAGUE was entering a new era – yes, another one – 19 years ago.
n March 31, 1996, Leeds played their first Super League fixture, losing 22-18 to Warrington Wolves on a Sunday afternoon at Headingley.
That came just a week after Leeds had suffered a surprise 28-6 drubbing by Bradford Bulls in a Challenge Cup semi-final at Huddersfield and those two results set the tone for what was to be a disastrous year for the club.
Leeds, coached by Dean Bell, had won 30-10 at Warrington the previous month in the Challenge Cup fifth round, but a number of key players had moved on since then and fans were still shaken by hero Garry Schofield’s departure, in late February, to Huddersfield Giants.
Even so, a crowd of 10,036 turned up at Headingley to welcome in the new summer competition and they were treated to an exciting game, though a disappointing Leeds performance.
Warrington caught the home team cold, racing 14-0 ahead inside the first 25 minutes and Leeds were booed off the field at half-time, when they trailed 16-6.
They did salvage some pride in the second half, almost snatching the points, but in the end it was their slow start that proved costly.
Leeds made 14 handling errors, seven in each half and lacked organisation and control, Francis Cummins having been switched out of the three-quarters to fill in at stand-off.
Hooker Mick Shaw had an outstanding game for the hosts, making 34 tackles – seven more than any of his team mates.
Substitute Nick Fozzard put in a big effort on his return from a broken jaw and Anthony Gibbons was strong at full-back.
The first Super League points at Headingley were scored by Warrington’s Iestyn Harris, a future Leeds hero, who kicked an early penalty goal.
Winger Mateaki Mafi grabbed the first try before Harris touched down and booted a second penalty goal.
Leeds’ first Super League try was registered by Kevin Iro, off George Mann’s pass, seven minutes before the break and Graham Holroyd converted.
Harris kicked another penalty on the stroke of half-time and converted Ian Knott’s touchdown soon after the break.
That finally sparked Leeds into life. Mann went over for a try improved by Holroyd and Fozzard crossed for a converted touchdown 14 minutes from time, but that was how it finished.
(Iro, Mann, Fozzard. Goals Holroyd 3)
Warrington 22 (Tries Mafi, Harris, Knott. Goals Harris 5)
March 31, 1996 Super league round one
Leeds: A Gibbons, Fallon, Iro, Hassan, Gleadhill, Cummins, Holroyd, Harmon, Shaw, Howard, Mann, Schultz, Morley. Subs: Riley (not used), Vassilakopoulos, Fozzard, McDermott.
Warrington Wolves: Penny, Forster, Rudd, Finau, Mafi, Harris, Ford, Hilton, Hough, Chambers, Knott, Cullen, Sculthorpe. Subs: Kohe-Love, Jones, Wainwright, Shelford.
Referee: Russell Smith.