Leeds Rhinos nostalgia: Plenty of capital gains and pains over the years

LONDON HAS been the scene of some of Leeds Rugby League Club’s most memorable victories, but they have also suffered their fair share of capital punishment – including a notorious occasion 41 years ago this week.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 6:00 am

Nine of Leeds’ 14 Challenge Cup final wins were at Wembley and they have been runners-up there eight times.

Their first visit to the national stadium was in 1936 when they beat Warrington 18-2, but Leeds had blazed a trail by playing in the capital four years earlier.

On December 14, 1932, they beat Wigan 18-9 in a floodlit exhibition match at the White City greyhound stadium, watched by a 10,000 crowd.

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Graham Eccles scored Leeds’ only points in a shock 9-3 defeat at Second Division Fulham 41 years ago this week.

Evan Williams scored two tries, Eric Harris and Iorwerth Jones got the others and Joe Thompson kicked three goals.

The game was arranged to test the water ahead of Wigan Highfield’s move to White City the following season.

Highfield’s owner claimed the relocated club would quickly become one of the biggest in the game and pledged to fund visiting sides’ travel costs, but the venture lasted just one season, despite an average attendance of around 6,000 and a league record of 20 wins from 38 games.

Leeds’ city rivals Bramley were the last visiting team at White City, losing 59-11 on May 4, which was the day before the Cup final at Wembley.

Leroy Rivett on his rway to scoring his third try against London Broncos in the 1999 Challenge Cup final. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

The Loiners played Highfield in back-to-back fixtures, winning 23-7 at Headingley on November 4 and 5-3 at London four days later.

New club Acton and Willesden took part in the 1935-36 season, playing out of Park Royal Stadium and competing in the Yorkshire League.

Leeds won the sides’ two meetings before the Londoners were wound up at the end of the campaign, Bramley being their final opponents.

Streatham and Mitcham went one better, surviving for two seasons, from 1935-37.

Iestyn Harris and man of the match Leroy Rivett collect the Challenge Cup in 1999. Picture: Brice Rollinson.

Leeds played them just once, winning 13-3 at Mitcham in a second round Challenge Cup tie on February 22, 1936.

They were back in the capital to win the final two months later, but didn’t play another London side until 1980 when they were drawn away to Fulham in the JP Trophy.

It was just two months after Fulham’s first match – a home win over Wigan – and Leeds were expected to pick up an easy win at Craven Cottage.

But they were 6-0 behind at half-time to two Iain MacCorquodale penalties and a brace of drop goals from David Eckersley and though Graham Eccles pulled a try back for Leeds, Eckersley touched down five minutes from time to seal a shock 9-3 win for the Second Division side.

Fulham are now London Broncos, having also played as London Crusaders and Harlequins.

Rhinos’ most famous win over a London team was in the 1999 Challenge Cup final when Broncos, who had led 10-0, were crushed 52-16, with Leroy Rivett scoring a then-record four tries.

Leeds have beaten London in all six of the sides’ Challenge Cup meetings and their overall league record against Broncos is 37 wins, two draws and 10 defeats.

The most recent of those losses was at home in 2019, though Rhinos avenged that at Magic Weekend and ensured Super League survival with an away win at Ealing Trailfinders late in the campaign.

London staged a stunning fightback to salvage a 36-36 draw at Brentford in 2004, one of only four league games Rhinos failed to win that year.

London’s only victory of the entire 2014 season was 40-36 to Leeds in Barnet, a week before Rhinos’ Challenge Cup final win over Castleford Tigers at Wembley.