A to Z of Leeds Rhinos - A is for America.

Rugby league has tried several times to establish a foothold in the United States.

Monday, 20th April 2020, 4:06 pm
Marcus Vassilakopoulos, middle, with Paul Cook and Francis Cummins. Picture by Dave Williams.

In 1953 wrestling promoter Mike Dimitro put together a team of college football players, with no league experience, to tour Australia and New Zealand

The America All Stars played 26 matches, winning seven, drawing two and losing 17. Top try scorer, with 14, was winger Al Kirkland, who later spent a year with Aussie club Parramatta and then paid his own airfare to England for a trial with Leeds.

Kirkland scored two tries for Leeds’ ‘A’ team in a 31-3 victory over Featherstone Rovers’ reserves and was immediately drafted into the first team to face Blackpool Borough at Headingley on August 20, 1957.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Marcus Vassilakopoulos in action for Hunslet.

The American marked his debut with a try, handed to him by Lewis Jones who broke clear and passed to Kirkland just short of the line.

Jones finished the match with 29 points, from a club record 13 goals and one try - and would have set a new Leeds record for most points in a match had he scored that touchdown himself.

Kirkland returned to America after being refused a work permit.

Marcus Vassilakopoulos, who played for Leeds in the 1990s, later emigrated to America and was capped six times by USA Tomahawks.

Alan Tait scored Leeds' try in their 1994 loss to Australia.

Rhinos have visited Florida for several pre-season training camps. They beat Halifax Blue Sox and Huddersfield Giants to win the Sunshine State Challenge, at Jacksonville Jaguars’ NFL stadium, in 2001 and defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs and Salford Red Devils at North Florida University later in the decade.

A is also for:

Australia.

Leeds have played Australian touring teams 17 times at Headingley, the most recent occasion being a 48-6 defeat in 1994. The Kangaroos won all but three of those meetings, Leeds picking up victories in 1929, 1937 and 1956.

Cameron Smith is one of 92 academy products to play for Rhinos since 1996. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Academy.

Ninety two players have graduated from Leeds’ academy to the first team since Super League began in 1996.

Average attendance:

Leeds’ highest post-war average attendance was 17,252 in 1950-52. The lowest was 3,081 in 1974-75. During the Super League era, the best was 16,608 in 2004 and poorest was 8,581 in 1996.