Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: How John Bentley proved to be an exceptional code-breaker

HIGH-PROFILE SIGNINGS from rugby union have become a rarity since that sport went openly professional more than a quarter of a century ago, so Leeds Rhinos have bucked the trend by bringing in Kyle Eastmond to boost their half-back options.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 6:00 am
Dual-code star John Bentley. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Eastmond, 31, is only the fifth England union international to join Leeds directly from the 15-a-side code.

His predecessor was John Bentley, a two-try scorer in a 40-28 win over Widnes at Headingley 29 years ago today.

Bentley played union for England both before and after turning professional with Leeds.

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John Bentley, far right, along with Lee Jackson and Barrie-Jon Mather congratulate Paul Newlove after his try for England against Australia at Wembley in 1995.

Born in Dewsbury, Bentley played union for Otley and Sale and made his England debut against Ireland in Dublin in April, 1988.

He was capped again against Australia in Brisbane the following month and turned down approaches from Wigan, Widnes and Hull KR before signing for Leeds later that year.

Bentley made his debut, on the right-wing, in a 24-6 win over Salford at the Willows on November 27. That was the first of 101 appearances in blue and amber, during which he scored 53 tries and 27 goals.

His final game for Leeds was as a substitute in a 74-6 Premiership semi-final drubbing at Wigan, when rival winger Martin Offiah scored 10 tries.

John Bentley of the British Lions celebrates victory in the second test match against South Africa at Kings Park in Durban, South Africa in 1997. Picture: Alex LiveseyAllsport.

Along with Gary Divorty, Bentley was sold to Halifax in 1992. Having played for Balmain Tigers in Australia during the summer of 1994, he switched back to union in 1996 with Newcastle and later had a stint on loan at Rotherham.

After returning to union, Bentley played twice for England in 1997 – against Australia in Sydney and South Africa at Twickenham – and scored seven tries in eight games for the British Lions on their 1997 tour to South Africa, including a hat-trick against Free State.

For the final years of his career he combined league and union, bowing out after a farewell season with Huddersfield Giants in 1999.

Like Eastmond, Bentley was a dual-code international, playing five times for England and twice with Great Britain in rugby league.

John Bentley on the run for Halifax. Picture: Steve Riding.

The first England union international to play for Leeds was Harry Bradshaw, who was capped seven times before joining the Loiners from Bramley in the 1895-96 season.

Jim Brough made the first of his seven appearances for England’s union side aged just 21 and also signed for Liverpool FC, as a trialist goal keeper or full-back, before switching sports to join Leeds – from Silloth – for a £600 fee in June, 1925. It proved money well spent as Brough went on to become one of Leeds’ finest and most successful full-backs, scoring 34 tries and 82 goals in 442 games during 19 years at the club. Brough featured five times for Great Britain, won six Yorkshire League championships, the Yorkshire Cup on five occasions and played in three Challenge Cup victories, including captaining Leeds on their first trip to Wembley, in 1936.

After retiring as a player, the Cumbrian coached Leeds during the 1948-49 season. He died, aged 82, in September, 1986.

Another full-back also came to the club from rugby union, having been capped five times by England.

Pat Quinn joined Leeds, for a £3,500 signing on fee, in August, 1956 and scored 28 tries and nine goals in 108 games, including a win at Wembley in his first season and Yorkshire Cup success the following year.

He resigned Leeds’ captaincy to join Wigan in 1959 and died, aged 55, in a road accident returning north from an England game at Twickenham in January, 1986.

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