Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Kiwi Tony Kemp enjoyed an action-packed career

EVENTFUL IS a fair word to describe the playing and coaching career of birthday boy Tony Kemp.
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The New Zealander, who turned 53 today, was a trophy winner with Castleford, had an injury-ravaged spell at Leeds Rhinos and found himself coach of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats when they went into financial meltdown.

Kemp, who began as a centre and finished at loose-forward, had a season as a player at Doncaster in the 1980s before five years with Newcastle Knights.

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He joined Castleford in 1993 and was at stand-off for the following year’s RT final at Headingley, kicking a drop goal in a famous 33-2 thrashing of Wigan

Leeds Rhinos' Tony Kemp looks to make a run against Bradford Bulls in 1998. Picture: Mark Bikerdike.Leeds Rhinos' Tony Kemp looks to make a run against Bradford Bulls in 1998. Picture: Mark Bikerdike.
Leeds Rhinos' Tony Kemp looks to make a run against Bradford Bulls in 1998. Picture: Mark Bikerdike.

Kemp scored 27 tries in 63 games before moving to Leeds in May, 1995. He made a try-scoring debut in a Charity Shield defeat by Wigan, but his career at the club was marred by two serious injuries.

The timing could not have been worse when Kemp suffered a broken arm in a Challenge Cup quarter-final at Halifax’s Thrum Hall in February, 1996, just a month before the start of Super League’s first season.

The following day Garry Schofield’s move to Huddersfield Giants was confirmed, leaving Leeds without an experienced, specialist stand-off. Kemp, capped 25 times by New Zealand, returned midway through the year and scored three tries in seven Super League appearances, including a brace in a crucial win at Workington Town in June.

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Leeds went into the month second from bottom in the table, just one point clear of the Cumbrians, whose squad included Australian half-back Tony Smith, later to coach Leeds Rhinos to two Grand Final triumphs.

Tony Kemp scores for Leeds against Workington. Picture: Steve Riding.Tony Kemp scores for Leeds against Workington. Picture: Steve Riding.
Tony Kemp scores for Leeds against Workington. Picture: Steve Riding.

Leeds got off to the worst possible start, going 8-0 behind, before Kemp’s half-back partnership with Graham Holroyd, plus some tough work by Barrie McDermott up front, turned the tide.

Leeds scored 18 unanswered points to lead by 10 at half-time and went on to win 48-18, moving above Paris St Germain into 10th place and taking a giant step towards top-flight survival.

Kemp made a strong start to the following year, in partnership with newly-signed scrum-half Ryan Sheridan, but the injury jinx struck again and he managed only five games, though he did have a successful spell as second team coach during his spell on the sidelines.

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Kemp was a more influential figure for Rhinos in 1998, scoring three tries in 17 games as they finished second in the table and went on to lose to Wigan Warriors in the first Grand Final, though he did not play at Old Trafford.

Castleford's Brad Davis, left, and Wakefield's Tony Kemp, square up ahead of a derby clash in 1999. Picture: Justin Lloyd.Castleford's Brad Davis, left, and Wakefield's Tony Kemp, square up ahead of a derby clash in 1999. Picture: Justin Lloyd.
Castleford's Brad Davis, left, and Wakefield's Tony Kemp, square up ahead of a derby clash in 1999. Picture: Justin Lloyd.

That year Wakefield Trinity beat Featherstone Rovers in the lower division promotion decider and – after 10 tries in 47 games for Leeds – made Kemp the big off-season signing for their Super League debut, immediately appointing the 31-year-old as captain.

Kemp scored two tries in 20 Super League appearances for the renamed Wildcats and was appointed coach during his second year there, following Andy Kelly’s sacking.

At the end of 1999, Trinity went on a spending spree bringing in a host of big names including Steve McNamara, Steve Prescott, Wasps rugby union winger Paul Sampson and Bobbie Goulding.

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Kemp joined the backroom staff as an assistant to Kelly and took over after the promotion-winning coach was sacked, but the season ended in turmoil when the cash ran out and all players over the age of 24 were released.

Wakefield's Tony Kemp is tackled by the Warrington defence. Picture: James Hardisty.Wakefield's Tony Kemp is tackled by the Warrington defence. Picture: James Hardisty.
Wakefield's Tony Kemp is tackled by the Warrington defence. Picture: James Hardisty.

Kemp headed home and joined New Zealand Warriors as assistant to coach Daniel Anderson, who he replaced as head coach half way through the 2004 season.

He was axed the following year, but went on to be team manager of the Kiwis national side in 2010.

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