Rhinos Golden Decade: A season grateful hooker Lunt will never forget

Leeds Rhinos, the 2012 Grand Final winners.
Leeds Rhinos, the 2012 Grand Final winners.
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SUPPOSEDLY LIGHTNING never strikes the same place twice.

It did for Leeds Rhinos in 2012 as they repeated the previous season’s historic feat of winning the Super League Grand Final from fifth spot on the table.

For the second year in succession Leeds were chosen as the league leaders’ club call pick, secured a place at Old Trafford thanks to a last-gasp Kevin Sinfield penalty goal and then came from behind to win the title.

And yet again their play-off triumph was achieved just two months after a painful Challenge Cup final defeat.

A vital development in Rhinos’ season happened in April, when Huddersfield Giants hooker Shaun Lunt was signed on loan for the rest of the season.

Lunt went on to score nine tries in 23 appearances and was a crucial spoke in the title-winning wheel.

Now preparing for the final year of his Giants contract, Lunt said: “It was a season I will never forget.

“I absolutely loved it there. I made a lot of good friends, it is an absolutely fantastic club and I am very grateful to them for giving me a shot.”

Lunt revealed his temporary move to Headingley Carnegie came out of the blue. He recalled: “I wasn’t getting in at Huddersfield and I asked Nathan (coach Nathan Brown) if I could go on loan.

“He said I could and then Nathan rang Brian (McDermott, Leeds’ coach) about another player and he asked about my services, so that’s how it came about.”

The Cumbrian hooker added: “It was a great opportunity. When you go on loan you generally go to a team lower in the division.

“At the time Leeds were fifth and Huddersfield were first, but you can never write them off. They are one of the best clubs in Super League and to get chance to go there on loan was a dream come true.

“They are a fantastic team with a lot of good players and it really benefited me, playing-wise and my personal development.

“I used to travel with Kevin (Sinfield) and I used to pick his brains all the time. We still keep in touch and I am very grateful, I learned a lot about myself and the game.”

Leeds’ league form in 2012 was at times even worse than the previous year, when they never dropped out of the play-off zone. In May they were thrashed 50-8 at home by Wigan Warriors and crushed 37-18 away to Warrington Wolves, results which left them ninth on the ladder.

“I remember we put in some good performances getting to the Challenge Cup final, but two fixtures stand out the most,” Lunt said.

“We played Wigan at home and got spanked by them. Then the last Super League game was Huddersfield at Huddersfield and we got spanked again.

“It wasn’t the best way to go into the play-offs, but we beat Wakefield at home and then Catalan and Wigan away – it was unbelievable, really surreal.”

Wigan were twice punished for that embarrassing result at Headingley. Rhinos shocked them 39-28 in the following month’s Challenge Cup semi-final and then won 31-12 in the Super League qualifying semi-final at DW Stadium.

Rhinos led 8-0 at the break, but went a point behind going into the closing minutes. Sinfield put up a high kick which was dropped by stand-in full-back Jack Murphy and as Leeds regathered, Rob Burrow – showing incredible quick-thinking – ran at an offside Liam Farrell.

The penalty was given and Sinfield kept his nerve to land the winning kick, as he had done at Warrington in similar circumstances 12 months earlier.

So, little more than a month after being beaten by Warrington at Wembley, Leeds faced their former coach Tony Smith’s side in the Grand Final.

“It was amazing,” Lunt said of the title decider. “Coming out as the fireworks were exploding, I got ashes in my eyes! I thought ‘just my luck, my eyes are going to be playing up, but fortunately it didn’t affect me.”

Lunt began the game on the bench with Burrow starting at hooker. The Huddersfield man created a crucial try for Carl Ablett in the second half as Leeds began to get on top following a tight opening hour.

“I’ve watched it a couple of times,” Lunt admitted. “It gets replayed on Sky and I still watch it. I was pleased I had an impact on the game, because when I played in the Challenge Cup final I didn’t feel I had a big impact in the game.

“When we got to the Grand Final I felt I had more of an impact and that was very rewarding for myself.”

Rhinos retained their title with a 26-18 victory and Lunt returned to Huddersfield after the Grand Final celebrations.

He has since continually been linked with a move back to Leeds, but said: “I have one more year left on my contract and I am looking forward to seeing what happens.”

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