Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Five memorable Super League round one match-ups
AFTER A four-month break, Betfred Super League returns this weekend and Leeds Rhinos will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the last time they played Wakefield Trinity in round one.
‘Wakey Wakey’ was the Yorkshire Evening Post headline 21 years ago after the then-Wildcats came away from Headingley with a shock 22-18 victory.
It wasn’t either team’s first game of the year; Leeds had already beaten Featherstone Rovers and St Helens in Challenge Cup ties, but Trinity’s campaign had begun with an embarrassing 48-0 drubbing by Bradford Bulls in the knockout competition.
Nobody expected Wakefield, coached by Andy Kelly, to bounce back with a win at Leeds, but they were full value for their shock 22-18 success which was the first of five straight league defeats for Rhinos.
Wakefield were 12-0 up at the break, after tries by Francis Stephenson and ex-Leeds centre Adam Hughes and the 13,842 crowd was stunned when Paul Sampson – signed from Wasps Rugby Union Club – crossed just six minutes after half-time and another off-season recruit, Steve McNamara, booted his third goal.
It took Leeds until the 56th minute to get points on the board, but Andy Hay’s touchdown was followed seven minutes later by one from Jamie Mathiou and Francis Cummins crossed 10 minutes before the end.
With Cummins converting all three, Leeds – under new coach Dean Lance – looked to have secured at least a draw, but Wakefield struck again in the final seconds through McNamara, who grabbed the winning try after Francis Maloney scuffed a drop goal attempt and Rhinos’ defence failed to tidy up.
That was only the second time Leeds had lost in Super League round one since competition began in 1996 and Rhinos then went unbeaten in their opening league game until 2016.
The following year’s win at London Broncos was one of Rhinos’ most memorable starts to a campaign.
They trailed 18-0 on a freezing night at The Valley, but hit their stride to score 50 points without reply.
Broncos were again the victims, three years later in 2004, when Leeds recorded their biggest round one victory, 58-14 at Headingley.
Papua New Guinean winger Marcus Bai stole the show that day with a hat-trick of tries on his debut.
Ten years ago, the season began with a Magic Weekend at Cardiff. Rhinos played Bradford Bulls in Brian McDermott’s first game as coach and hit back from 28-10 behind with 17 minutes left to win 32-28.
Leeds – with Keith Senior making his 400th appearance – were still two points adrift going into the final 120 seconds when Ben Jones-Bishop kicked ahead and was awarded a penalty try after being taken out off the ball by Gareth Raynor. The streak finally came to an end five years ago when Warrington Wolves won 12-10 at Headingley. Rhinos have won only once in round one since then, at Warrington in 2018.
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