Leeds Rhinos nostalgia - remembering two famous Wembley wins

Monday, May 11, is the anniversary of two of Leeds’ most dramatic Challenge Cup triumphs, 11 years apart.

Sunday, 10th May 2020, 5:00 pm
Leeds players parade the Challenge Cup at Wembley on May 11, 1968. Picture by YPN.

On that date in 1957, Leeds won the Cup for the sixth time with a tense 9-7 Wembley victory against Barrow.

The famous Watersplash final, played on the same date in 1968, was even closer, Leeds winning 11-10 following the most famous incident in rugby league’s history.

Leeds faced a tough road to Wembley 63 years ago, with all but one of their five ties being decided by six points or fewer.

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Don Fox's kick goes wide and into rugby league history. Picxture by PA.

A massive crowd of 38,914 - with an estimated 5,000 locked out - saw Leeds beat Wigan 13-11 at Headingley in round one.

They then saw off Warrington 28-6 in a Headingley snowstorm, in front of 22,000, before a hard-fought 16-10 victory over Halifax at Thrum Hall in the last eight.

Those ties were all part of a club-record 18-game winning run, which ended the week before Leeds faced Whitehaven in a semi-final at Odsal.

The Cumbrians led by one point with time running out and, under the old unlimited tackle rule, Leeds unable to gain possession.

1957 captain Keith McLellan, believed to be the club's oldest surviving player, is still a Leeds fan. He is pictured at Headingley in 2017. Picture by James Hardisty.

After 39 successive tackles on the player at acting-half, Joe Anderson stole the ball and Jeff Stevenson kicked a 35-yard drop goal to snatch a 10-9 win and send Leeds to Wembley.

Captained by Keith McLellan, an Australian centre who was one of the first players to be inducted into Rhinos’ hall of fame three years ago, Leeds were 3-0 ahead at half-time through a try from Pat Quinn, kicker Lewis Jones being unable to add to his record total of 431 points for the season.

Del Hodgkinson and Don Robinson - who played with a broken wrist - crossed either side of a Willie Horne penalty goal to make it 9-2, but Barrow rallied with 16 minutes left when Phil Jackson scored and Horne added a touchline goal to cut the gap to two.

Robinson had a try ruled out - Leeds’ third of the game - in the final minute and Barrow almost scored the winner when John Rea broke away, with support, following the penalty, but he kicked ahead and George Broughton gathered the ball to confirm the Loiners’ win.

Lewis Jones set a new Leeds points record in 1956-57, but could not add to that at Wembley. Picture by YPN.

Stevenson became Leeds’ first Lance Todd Trophy winner as Wembley man of the match.

Leeds’ next Wembley appearance came against Trinity, who had retained the Championship trophy by beating Hull KR in the final at Headingley a week earlier.

The Headingley men had equalled their 18-game winning run from 1956-57 earlier in the season and finished top of the table.

In the Challenge Cup they picked up home wins over Liverpool City 23-12 and Bramley 29-0, won 13-0 at Oldham and saw off Wigan 25-4 in a Station Road, Swinton, semi-final.

London was lashed by heavy rain the day before the final and another downpour in the lead-up to kick-off left standing water on the pitch, but - with 87,100 spectators having travelled from the north, the authorities were unwilling to postpone and the game became a farce.

Wakefield - without the injured Neil Fox - led 7-4 at the interval, through a Ken Hirst try which Don Fox converted after landing an earlier penalty.

Bev Risman kicked two penalties for Leeds, but torrential rain at half-time made the conditions even worse.

With 11 minutes left, Leeds’ John Atkinson was awarded a hugely controversial penalty try, for an alleged obstruction by Gert Coetzer.

Risman converted and made it 11-7 with a 79th minute penalty, but right-winger Hirst hacked on Fox’s restart - which Leeds had expected to go to Wakefield’s left - and slid over to touch down between the posts.

The straightforward conversion would have handed the Cup to Trinity, but - with some Leeds players unable to look - Lance Todd winner Fox slipped and the ball went wide, referee JP Hebblethwaite immediately blowing for time.

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