Leeds Rhinos Bygones: Groundbreaking fixture proves trickier than Leeds had envisaged
NEW GROUND was broken '“ in more ways than one '“ when Leeds played Sheffield Eagles 27 years ago this week.
Eagles had been promoted to Division One at the end of the previous season, only their fifth since being formed by now Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
So the sides’ meeting on October 29 was their first in the league, though Leeds had won 50-2 at Headingley in the John Player competition during Eagles’ debut campaign.
It was also the first rugby league game staged in Chesterfield, at the football club’s Saltergate ground.
Safety factors – after the recent disaster at nearby Hillsborough – prevented Eagles from playing at their previous Owlerton base and home matches in 1989-90 were staged at Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Halifax, Wakefield, Doncaster and Barnsley FC, as well as Chesterfield.
In keeping with the theme, Leeds coach David Ward sprang a surprise for the trip to Derbyshire by naming Dave Heron – a specialist loose-forward – at stand-off for the first time.
Leeds also welcomed back Aussie Mark Laurie, for the first time since 1984 and were rewarded with a fine performance and a 27-16 win.
Heron was among Leeds’ try scorers and also made some crucial tackles in midfield as the visitors were tested by a Sheffield team proving more competitive than expected.
Scrum-half Craig Coleman also had a strong game for Leeds and the halves flourished behind a dominant pack, despite the absence of Roy Powell who had played for Great Britain in a 26-6 win over New Zealand at Elland Road the previous afternoon.
Carl Gibson scored his first try of the year and made a crucial tackle which led to the game-breaking touchdown.
Trailing 15-12, Eagles were attacking when Gibson jarred the ball loose from Jeff Hardy’s grasp and Paul Dixon picked up before battering off a posse of defenders on a 50-yard charge to the line.
That was the only try not involving Coleman, who also kicked a drop goal. Colin Maskill landed five goals.
Try scorers for Sheffield were Andy Dickinson, Dave Nelson and Mark Gamson and Mark Aston kicked two goals.
(Tries: Dickinson, Nelson, Gamson. Goals: Aston 2)
Leeds 27 (Tries: Spencer, Heron, Dixon, Gibson. Goals Maskill 5. Drop goal: Coleman)
October 29, 1989, Division One
Sheffield Eagles: Mycoe, Nelson, Dickinson, Powell, Gamson, Hardy, Aston, Broadbent (Grimoldby), Cook, Van Bellen (Kellett), Nickle, McGuire, Smiles.
Leeds: Spencer, Bentley, Lord (Vasey), Gibson, Fawcett, Heron, Coleman, Waddell, Maskill, Dixon, Izzard, Laurie, Divorty.
Referee: Robin Whitfield.