Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: A season to savour for Ellery Hanley in 1994/95
EVEN BY his own sky high standards, Leeds’ superstar loose-forward Ellery Hanley had a remarkable season in 1994-95.
His best days may have been behind him, certainly in terms of terms of winning trophies, when Leeds paid Wigan £250,000 for his signature in September, 1991, but even in his 30s Hanley remained one of the world’s finest players.
In 104 games for Leeds, his home city club, the former Bradford Northern man scored an incredible 106 tries, including a brace in a 26-8 win over Salford at the Willows 26 years ago today.
That was a step towards a new world record for a forward of 41 touchdowns in a single season, from just 34 appearances.
That beat by one the previous best from a forward, set by Leeds’ Bob Haigh, in 1970-71.
At the start of the campaign, in August, Hanley was appointed Great Britain coach to replace ex-Leeds boss Malcolm Reilly, who had moved to Australia to take charge of Newcastle Knights.
He selected Sheffield Eagles’ Gary Hetherington, now chief executive at Leeds, as his assistant and they got off to a sensational start with victory over Australia in the first Ashes Test at Wembley, despite Shaun Edwards being sent off in the first half.
The Kangaroos hit back to win the series 2-1 and Hanley reverted to his playing role at Leeds.
He was a hugely influential figure as the Loiners finished second to Wigan in the Championship table and reached both the Challenge Cup and Premiership finals.
But despite his world record, Hanley was not selected in the 1994-95 equivalent of the Super League Dream Team.
Top-flight coaches chose Wigan’s Phil Clarke – by six votes to five – as that season’s top loose-forward.
Hanley, notorious for refusing to speak to the media during his playing days, was an individual who could do it all on a rugby field.
He had lost some of his pace when he joined Leeds, but remained a devastating support player and powerful defender with a non-stop work rate.
In that 1994-95 campaign, his fourth and last at Leeds, Hanley scored his 400th try during a Regal Trophy win over Swinton and booted his 100th goal – on top of a hat-trick of touchdowns – against Bradford.
He completed a century of Leeds appearances when Widnes were crushed at Headingley, celebrating that milestone by crossing four times and grabbed a hat-trick in a Challenge Cup defeat of Workington Town which was his 100th appearance for the club.
Unfortunately for the Loiners, Hanley suffered a shoulder injury over Easter and made little impact at Wembley when Leeds were beaten by Wigan for a second successive season, losing 30-10.
Leeds also reached the top-eight Premiership final, where they were destroyed 69-12, but off-field controversy dominated the end of the campaign.
The RFL accepted the introduction of Super League from 1996, but Down Under the sport was split between the new competition and existing Australian Rugby League.
Hanley was offered a loyalty bonus to stay in England, but turned down the cash and opted to finish his playing career with ARL club Balmain.
That decision also ended his stint as Great Britain boss. He later coached St Helens to a Super League Grand Final win, had a brief spell as an advisor at Castleford Tigers and guided Doncaster to promotion from League Two.
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