LEEDS RHINOS and Wigan Warriors – who clash at Headingley Carnegie on Friday night – have fought out some epic battles down the years.
Two of the biggest clubs in the game – not just in this country, but worldwide – they have been fierce rivals since the early days of the Northern Union.
Despite a slump in the late 1970s and early 80s, which saw them relegated to the then-Division Two for a season in 1980-81, Wigan have traditionally held the upper hand.
Wigan bounced straight back into the top-flight – promoted as Division Two runners up, behind York – and were the dominant force in the sport just a few years later.
According to Rhinos’ official handbook, Leeds have won just 37 per cent of almost 200 league meetings with Wigan. Their win ratio at home is around 50 per cent, but just 23 per cent away to the Cherry and Whites.
Statistics like that mean any victory over Wigan is memorable and one of Leeds’ best of the summer era – on home turf at least – came in August, 1999.
Coached by Graham Murray, Leeds had won the Challenge Cup three months earlier and were third in Super League, but beginning to find the going tough.
Against Wigan, who were fourth, they were forced to field a makeshift line-up with Andy Speak at hooker in one of only four Super League appearances he made for the club.
Rookies Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Chev Walker were on the bench and Kevin Sinfield – a player of rich promise, but still finding his foot at the top level – started in the second-row. Wigan took an early grip on the match and raced into a 12-4 lead with half an hour gone, when Leroy Rivett snatched Andy Farrell’s pass and raced 80 metres for a spectacular touchdown.
Francis Cummins, Brad Godden, Iestyn Harris and Ryan Sheridan were Rhinos’ other try scorers, in front of a crowd of 15,835 and Harris finished with four goals in a 28-22 success.
Gavin Clinch, Paul Johnson, Danny Moore and Jason Robinson scored Wigan’s touchdowns, with Farrell landing three goals.
Three of Leeds’ line-up that evening – Harris (Salford Red Devils), Daryl Powell (Castleford Tigers) and Cummins (Bradford Bulls) are now coaching in Super League, along with Wigan’s Denis Betts (Widnes Vikings). In addition, Leeds’ Sheridan (Castleford) and Andy Hay (Salford) are assistant-coaches at the top level. Leeds’ current squad includes two survivors from that memorable clash – Sinfield and Jones-Buchanan – and Walker is also still playing, at Bradford Bulls, with Wigan’s Lee Gilmour remaining in the playing ranks at Castleford.