QUITE incredulously, Leeds Tykes were priced at 4-1 to win the Powergen Cup final against Bath in 2005.
To the uninitiated, that means for every tenner you put on, you would receive another £40 back if the Yorkshire club prospered. Not bad odds for a two-horse race.
Bath, such a legendary name in the sport, had played in 10 senior cup finals previously and won them all, the likes of Jeremy Guscott and Stuart Barnes synonymous with a golden era.
To the traditionalists in the game – and clearly the bookmakers – it was hard to imagine some upstarts from the Broad Acres would ever threaten that record, especially considering they were fighting relegation from the Premiership.
Yet Phil Davies’s side did, of course, prove victorious, winning 20-12 on their first visit to HQ on April 16, 2005, in arguably the club’s finest achievement.
As the 10th anniversary of that memorable afternoon arrives on Thursday, however, Mike Shelley, who lifted the trophy, still fails to understand why it was such a “shock.”
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, the former loose-head prop, who amassed 244 appearances for Tykes, admitted: “We beat Bath twice that season. When we read the press afterwards and saw this massive ‘upset’, for us that was a bit of… ‘Why?’
“No-one was bothered as such. Bath hadn’t lost a cup final before but they were different Bath teams. Teams have their moment in the sun. They weren’t that strong that year.”
Shelley is too magnanimous; the Bath side of ’04-05 was not stellar but the performance Leeds delivered to take the cup should not be under-estimated.
They lost captain Iain Balshaw, the British Lions full-back, to an injury inside three minutes and England centre Phil Christophers, too, with barely a quarter of the game gone.
However, Shelley, who now lives in Canada, revealed: “We’d done a lot of work that season on mindset. There was a bit of your average psychology and it was more team prep’ really, discussions about what happens if this happens or that.
“We knew Balsh’ was carrying an injury going in and we’d gone through if he did go off what would happen. And if someone else did what happens then.
“So we’d pretty much rehearsed every situation and gone through so many scenarios.
“The ones we practiced in the team meeting room actually happened on the field so there was no panic about who was going to come on.
“We all knew what would happen and it was seamless.”
Perhaps that should be no surprise. Shelley, persuaded by Davies to leave West Hartlepool and drop down a couple of leagues to join his home-town club in Division Three in 1996, admits it was the finest team of his decade at Headingley.
“That was the best group we ever had together,” he said, with former Springbok centre Andre Snyman and current Wasps star Chris Bell scoring tries, allied to 10 points from man-of-the-match Gordon Ross, the Scotland No 10.
“We weren’t a new team that year. That group of players was tight and pretty charismatic with Ronnie (Mark Regan) in the front-row – you don’t get more charismatic than him! – and an all-Welsh back-row of Scott Morgan, Richard Parks and Alix Popham working hard.
“Goggsy (Ross) played one of his best games for us that day. He was a great lad for us, a great player in the early part of his career. He was a good team guy and then to have a couple of big guns like Balsh and Snyman… I didn’t know much about the backs but it was a strong team.
“And we all had a good focus that year. We’d got ourselves in a little trouble in the league but got through a couple of cup rounds against Northampton and London Irish which meant we got in a position to get a trip out… Leeds boys going down to Twickenham!”
Leading 20-9 at half-time, Tykes kept Bath tryless throughout with a monumental defensive effort that seemed to be a constant stream of tackles especially in the second period.
Had Shelley – then aged 33 – ever experienced such a defiant stand before?
“We had gone into the game knowing Bath played side to side, hitting the 15m line and they didn’t put anything different in front of us,” he said.
“Again, the scenario was planned, we did our homework and were lucky they didn’t send anything we didn’t expect at us.”
The iconic image of the whole day was Shelley’s elated face as he raises that cup afterwards.
It was fitting he did, having captained them to promotion to the Premiership in 2001, capping a stunning rise through the divisions. But why not Balshaw, or lock Stuart Hooper who took over when the Lion limped off?
“I’d been captain for four years and I think Phil wanted a bit of a change,” he recalled, with Tom Palmer taking over in 2004.
“So, Palmer was captain, then Balsh, but the way it was presented was (adopts perfect impression of Welshman Davies) ‘Michael, you’re still the f**king captain but these other guys can be a captain as well.’
“I was the senior guy I suppose and the only Yorkshireman in the team, so that day I went up to get it. Balsh’ had played five minutes so he was ‘I’m not getting it.’ Hoops said the same and told me to. I wasn’t going to say no.
“The pictures are here now in my house, not all over the place but I see them pretty regularly.
“It’s good to look at and a very proud moment for me. Not many people lifted that cup.”
Crucially, Leeds followed their Twickenham triumph by delivering an heroic escape from relegation, too.
They had shown clear signs of recovery by beating Leicester Tigers and Gloucester in the two games before Twickenham and then returned to London to defeat Harlequins to set up a dramatic final day.
Davies’s side went into their last match knowing defeat would probably send them down.
Ironically, that final fixture was at Bath. Leeds trailed 6-3 until Matt Holt scored in the sixth minute of stoppage-time to record a 10-6 victory which, surreally, saw them finish as high as eighth, with Quins demoted.
It is hard to decipher whether that cup success was the catalyst but Shelley admitted: “You can’t discount what winning a national cup does to players’ morale.
“It definitely binds the team together and you get a taste of – I don’t want to say glory – success.
“But one of the things we said was it means nothing if we get relegated. The cup was losing a little bit of its recognition and it was the last year before it went Anglo-Welsh. There was still a Heineken Cup place up for grabs for it which we did earn.
“But we didn’t want to be the team that won the cup and got relegated in the same year.”
They were not. Leeds –Yorkshire Carnegie as they are now known – may have slipped since but the side of 2004-05 will always hold its place in folklore.
ENGLAND cricket captain Michael Vaughan getting the drinks in was a sign Leeds Tykes had finally made it.
Looking back at their 2005 Powergen Cup final win over Bath, Tykes legend Mike Shelley recalls: “The whole event was one of the first times as a rugby union player in Leeds I felt the whole city and county was behind us.
“It was helped by three Yorkshire clubs being in finals that day at Twickenham – Morley and Sheffield Tigers, too – which was a massive boost for us.
“But banners were up in Leeds city centre wishing us the best of luck and first and foremost, Rhinos – such a champion side – were there supporting us for a change.
“I remember going to Starbucks on the way in to work on the Monday as we’d had a bit of a weekend... and Michael Vaughan bought my coffee!
“It really felt like we were representing Yorkshire sport.
“That was a proud achievement. With the exception of football who had their own problems at that time – Leeds United probably couldn’t afford a Starbucks coffee – we really represented the city and did really well.
“I’m a big Rhinos fan, Leeds United supporter and Yorkshire cricket, too, but we were the flagship side of the city that day. It was great.”