A DECADE ago Leeds Rhinos completed the most dominant league campaign in the club’s history.
Rhinos’ final fixture of the weekly Super League rounds was a 42-14 win over London Broncos at Headingley on September 17, 2004, when Mark Calderwood, Matt Diskin and Ali Lauitiiti all bagged a brace of tries, Chev Walker and Keith Senior also touched down and Kevin Sinfield kicked five goals, in front of a bumper crowd of 17,329.
The score that evening took Rhinos over 1,000 points for the season, to a total of 1,037, with just 443 conceded (an average result of 37-16). Only Bradford Bulls in 2001 (1,120), Leeds in 2005 (1,152) and Warrington Wolves three years ago (1,072) have scored more points in a Super League campaign, excluding the play-offs.
It was the first time Leeds had finished top of the table since 1971-72.
They won 24 of their 28 games played, with two draws and only two defeats and their 50 competition points was nine more than runners-up Bradford Bulls. Daryl Powell had set the wheels in motion the previous season, when Leeds were Challenge Cup runners-up and third in the table, but new boss Tony Smith was the missing piece in the jigsaw.
The Aussie, who was previously in charge of Huddersfield Giants, showed a ruthless streak from the start, dropping Francis Cummins for the opening game of the campaign, a 58-14 home win over London.
That broke Cummins’ run of 182 consecutive appearances, stretching back to 1998.
St Helens ended Leeds’ interest in the Challenge Cup at the fifth round stage and also thrashed Rhinos 56-10 at Knowsley Road in May.
But Leeds’ last league defeat was 26-22 at Wigan Warriors in June and other than draws away to London in July and Wigan two months later, the rest of the regular campaign was unblemished.
Including the Challenge Cup and play-offs, skipper Kevin Sinfield kicked 155 goals in a points tally of 323 and Danny McGuire crossed 39 times.
McGuire was neck and neck with Lesley Vainikolo as top try scorer for the weekly rounds, but Smith again showed his ruthless edge by leaving him out of the team to face London –therefore effectively handing the award to the Bradford man.
Players who made their debut in 2004 were Marcus Bai (who scored 26 tries), Carl Ablett and Ali Lauitiiti, a hugely influential mid-season signing from New Zealand Warriors.
The good times rolled as Leeds’ average home crowd increased by almost 4,000, to 16,028. There was a shock in store when Rhinos lost their opening play-offs tie at home to Bradford, but they rallied with victory over Wigan in the final eliminator before gaining revenge on Bulls at Old Trafford to claim their first Championship in 32 years.