Champion Class: The six-time Grand Final winners have prospered at Magic Weekend events regardless of opposition or city. Peter Smith reports
LEEDS RHINOS are kings of the Magic Weekend.
Last year’s controversial 20-16 loss to tomorrow’s opponents Wigan Warriors at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium was their only defeat in seven stagings of the event.
On a Magic Weekend league table, Rhinos would be top, two points clear of Hull KR and Warrington Wolves, who have both won five and lost two of their Magic matches.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not given the quality of opposition they have faced, Wigan are only fourth, with nine points out of a possible 14, from four wins and a draw.
The rest of the table of current top-flight clubs is: eight points - London Broncos and Huddersfield Giants (both won four, lost three); seven points – St Helens (won three, lost three, drawn one); six points – Catalan Dragons (won three, lost four) and Castleford Tigers (won three, lost three); four points – Salford Red Devils (won two, lost four), Hull and Wakefield (both won two, lost five); two points – Bradford Bulls (won one, lost six) and zero – Widnes Vikings (lost two).
Leeds also hold – or share – several event records. Three Rhinos players – Rob Burrow, Ryan Hall and Kevin Sinfield – are Magic Weekend ever-presents.
The other 10 players not to have missed a Magic Weekend are Castleford Tigers’ Andy Lynch, who played five times for Bradford and twice with Hull; Eorl Crabtree (all with Huddersfield Giants), Willie Manu (six for Hull and once with St Helens); Peter Fox (four with Hull KR and three for Wakefield); Ryan Atkins (three with Wakefield and four for Warrington); Kevin Brown (six for Huddersfield and one for Widnes); Widnes’ Paul Clough (all for St Helens); Darrell Goulding (six for present club Wigan and once with Salford), Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan) and Ben Fisher (five with Hull KR and one each for Catalan and London).
Ryan Hall made his Rhinos debut at the first Magic Weekend in 2007 and shares the record for most tries with Paul Wellens, who has also crossed seven times.
Kevin Sinfield has scored the most goals (36) and points (76) and is the only player to score points at all seven Magic Weekends so far.
His nearest challenger is Danny Brough, of Huddersfield Giants, whose points tally of 70 includes 27 goals, 10 of those for Wakefield.
With Giants facing Bradford Bulls on Sunday, Brough will be looking to overtake Sinfield’s total this weekend.
Danny McGuire scored five tries for Rhinos when they beat Bradford at Manchester two years ago, which is a joint record shared with Warrington’s Joel Monaghan, who bagged a nap hand against Widnes the same year.
Remarkably, McGuire has not crossed in any of Leeds’ other six Magic fixtures.
Monaghan cashed in as Warrington thrashed Salford 68-16, equalling their record set against Salford two years earlier.
The Magic Weekend – which sees an entire round of games staged at the same venue over two days – was introduced in 2007 as a way of promoting rugby league in Wales ahead of Crusaders’ entry into Super League.
The first two weekends were both held at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, before a two-season switch to Murrayfield, in Edinburgh.
The event returned to south Wales in 2011, when it kicked off the new campaign under the Millennium’s closed roof.
The following year it headed north to its current base at the Etihad, attracting a record crowd of 63,716 across the two days.
Rhinos have been involved in some of the event’s most memorable and controversial moments, including the most famous finish to a match in the regular Super League rounds.
That came in the final game of the first event, after Bulls led their arch rivals 38-36 with seconds to go.
The controversy began when video referee Ashley Klein advised man in the middle Steve Ganson to award a penalty for offside, which replays later proved was a poor decision.
Sinfield’s kick – an attempt to salvage a draw – hit the crossbar and Jordan Tansey followed up to touch down, as the hooter sounded.
Ganson awarded the try, Sinfield converted – after celebrating with a cartwheel – and Leeds won 42-38, Bulls’ total still standing as a record by a losing team.
But replays showed Tansey had been standing in front of Sinfield when the kick was taken and was therefore offside.
Had Ganson handed the decision on the touchdown would have been disallowed and Bulls would have won.
Bradford were furious, there was talk of legal action and Leeds were asked to hand the two points back, but the result stood.
It was almost as contentious when the sides met in 2011, in Brian McDermott’s first match as Leeds coach. Bradford were 28-10 up with 17 minutes left and would probably have won if Chev Walker had been awarded a try by video referee Richard Silverwood, who instead ruled a knock-on.
They still led with time running out, but when Ben Jones-Bishop kicked ahead and was taken out by Gareth Raynor, Silverwood awarded a penalty try and Leeds won 32-28.
Rhinos have made a habit of leaving it late.
They did just that the previous year, battling back from 28-12 down to beat Wakefield 34-30, thanks to Danny Buderus’ 77th minute try.
Wildcats have rarely enjoyed the Magic Weekend. Their only wins were both against Castleford, two years ago and in 2008, when they were embarrassed 54-16.
But Tigers made amends with a stunning 49-24 success last May, to give Daryl Powell his first victory as Cas coach.
They also beat Wildcats in 2010, triumphing 40-20 in a game marred by a Super League record 37 penalties – 22 of them against Wakefield – awarded by referee James Child.
Tigers weren’t involved in the inaugural Magic Weekend, when they were playing in the second division.
Wildcats played Huddersfield that year and were beaten 32-12, despite an eight-point contribution from Jamie Rooney.
After their embarrassing debut in 2008 – a year which saw Leeds comfortably see off Bradford 40-26 – Cas also lost to Hull at Edinburgh in 2009, going down 24-16.
That year saw Leeds beat Catalan 36-16, but Wildcats became Bradford’s first – and so far only – victims, going down 32-16, with Paul Sykes – now a Wakefield player – scoring a hat-trick.
Wakefield were caught out by Leeds’ dramatic fightback in 2010, but Tigers broke their duck with a 34-18 victory against Catalan.
After the season-opener in 2011, the event’s move to Manchester saw McGuire’s five tries for Leeds see off Bulls, yet again – though the game, played in sweltering heat, was overshadowed by drama afterwards.
Bulls’ Adrian Purtell was taken ill on the journey back to Bradford and later underwent surgery to unblock an artery, though he made a full recovery to play again.
Cas were pipped 32-26 by Wakefield in a thrilling clash, Tim Smith’s late try sealing the win for Trinity.