Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: World Club Championship proved rude awakening for Super League clubs in 1997

Twenty two years ago Super League was about to receive a rude awakening, but at the same time the seeds were being sown for a Leeds Rhinos revival.

By Peter Smith
Monday, 3rd June 2019, 5:30 am
Anthony Farrell upends North Queensland Cowboys' Steve Walters in 1997.
Anthony Farrell upends North Queensland Cowboys' Steve Walters in 1997.

A global competition involving all the European Super League clubs and those from the Australian version of the competition seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned into a fiasco.

The sport in Australia had split between the new Super League competition and the established Australian Rugby League (ARL).

Leeds Rhinos players celebrate in the dressing room after their victory against the Adelaide Rams in the World Club Championship.

With the northern hemisphere having switched to a summer season the year before, the way was clear for a contest to decide which was the superior Super League.

The World Club Championship featured 65 matches, including the semi-finals and final which did not involve any European clubs.

Of the 61 cross-hemisphere games, the Australasian teams – who included Auckland Warriors – won 54.

The only English team to pick up a win on Australian turf were Wigan who were 22-18 victors at Canterbury Bulldogs on June 9. Leeds Rhinos were in Australia 22 years ago preparing for a game at North Queensland Cowboys.

Dean Bell’s side were in good form and confident mood, but slumped 42-20 on June 7.

Six days later they visited another newly-formed club, Adelaide Rams and suffered a 34-8 thrashing.

Castleford Tigers fared no better, despite home advantage in the first phase of the competition.

They were defeated 24-16 by Perth Reds on June 8 and 42-12 by Hunter Mariners the following weekend, both in front of fewer than 3,500 fans.

A rare European win came at Don Valley Stadium where Sheffield Eagles beat Perth Reds 26-22, with ex-Rhinos player Marcus Vassilakopoulos scoring the winning try.

Rhinos did better when they were at home in August, Paul Sterling scoring a stunning try in a 22-14 win over Adelaide before they lost 48-14 to North Queensland.

In Australia Tigers went down 24-14 at Perth and 26-8 to Hunter Mariners.

The Newcastle, New South Wales-based club went on to reach the final where they lost 36-12 to Brisbane Broncos.

Mariners folded at the end of the season, but coach Graham Murray had enhanced his reputation and was snapped up by Leeds as their new team boss when Bell took over as head of youth.

He led Rhinos to the Grand Final in 1998 and Challenge Cup glory the following year.



2016: Struggling Leeds Rhinos suffered a seventh successive defeat when they were beaten 24-12 by Catalans Dragons at Headingley on June 3. Brett Ferres and Josh Walters were try scorers and Jordan Lilley kicked two goals.

2011: Leeds were hammered 42-16 by St Helens at their temporary Widnes home eight years ago today. Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Lee Smith scored Leeds’ tries and Kevin Sinfield added four goals.

2006: Harlequins were beaten 36-18 at Headingley on June 4. Danny Williams, pictured above, led the way for Leeds with a hat-trick, Scott Donald touched down twice and Willie Poching and Danny McGuire were the other try scorers. Kevin Sinfield added four goals.

2005: A Keith Senior hat-trick helped Rhinos to a 34-14 home success against Hull on this day in 2005. It was Leeds’ 10th successive win in all competitions and Marcus Bai, Rob Burrow and Richard Mathers also crossed, Kevin Sinfield kicking five goals.

2000: Rhinos pulled off a dramatic 30-24 win at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 19 years ago tomorrow. Karl Pratt was their hat-trick hero, Paul Sterling bagged a brace and Adrian Morley was the other try scorer. Iestyn Harris booted three goals.