Leeds Rhinos all-time top-10 - No 8 John Atkinson

AT EIGHTH in our choice of Leeds Rhinos’ top-10 all-time greats is John Atkinson.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 29th March 2020, 1:28 pm
Updated Sunday, 29th March 2020, 1:30 pm
Former Leeds winger John Atkinson.
Former Leeds winger John Atkinson.

He is the second winger on the list, behind Eric Harris in 10th spot. Joe Thompson, a prop, was ninth.

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Number eight: John Atkinson.

Leeds-born John Atkinson was fast, but he was also agile and he knew his way to the tryline.

During Leeds’ second golden era – after the 1930s when Eric Harris was at his peak – Atkinson’s thrilling runs on the Loiners’ left-wing, opposite his good friend Alan Smith, were one of the finest sights in world rugby.

His record as a try scorer was remarkable, 340 in 518 games over 16 seasons. Only Harris and Atkinson have scored more than 300 tries for Leeds and the latter is fourth on the club’s list of appearances. His total of 1,020 points for Leeds – all from tries – has been bettered by only 12 players. He is the only player to score more than 1,000 points in blue and amber without kicking a single goal.

Atkinson was credited with a penalty try in Leeds’ 1968 Challenge Cup final victory against Wakefield Trinity and crossed in the back-to-back 1977 and 1978 triumphs, when Widnes and St Helens were beaten.

He was a Championship and Premiership winner twice, helped Leeds to victory in BBC2 Floodlit and John Player Trophy finals and collected seven Yorkshire Cup gold medals. In total, he played in 20 finals for Leeds and lost only four.

At Test level, Atkinson – who was a police officer in his day job – played 26 games for Great Britain (12 tries) and touched down seven times in 12 England appearances.

Atkinson played rugby union for Roundhay before signing with Leeds in May, 1965. He bagged a brace of tries on his debut against York the following March and his final game for Leeds was at Widnes in May, 1982. A member of rugby league’s disciplinary panel after he retired – following a stint with Carlisle – Atkinson was inducted into Leeds’ hall of fame in 2019, two years after his death.