Leeds Rhinos to host New Zealand in World Cup warm-up at Headingley

LEEDS RHINOS will take on New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up match at Headingley this autumn.

By Peter Smith
Friday, 13th May 2022, 6:00 am

The blockbuster clash, on Saturday, October 8 (6pm), will be Rhinos’ first meeting with Test opposition since a full house at Headingley saw them narrowly beaten by the Kiwis seven years ago. It comes a week before the tournament begins and eight days ahead of New Zealand’s opener against Lebanon in Warrington.

New Zealand will be back at Headingley 20 days after the Rhinos fixture, to play Ireland.

Rhinos say the match will be a “celebration of rugby league with the club aiming to work with every community club in the region to provide special offers for all those involved in the community game to make it a night to remember at Headingley”. Leeds’ history against the Kiwis goes back 115 years to when they faced the pioneering All Golds – rugby league’s first international tourists – on October 26, 1907.

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Leeds Rhinos' Kylie Leuluai joins the New Zealand haka the last time the sides met in October 2015. Picture: Steve Riding.

It is the 13th meeting between Leeds and New Zealand, with the tourists having lost only once. Chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “To have been granted a game against one of our great Test-playing nations is a huge honour and a privilege for Leeds Rhinos.

“International rugby league is the pinnacle of our sport and it has been sorely missed over the last three years due to the global pandemic. Our home at Headingley is intrinsically linked to the international game for over a century and I believe this game is a fantastic way to not only celebrate that history, but also look ahead to a thrilling home World Cup here in England.”

Leeds will be at the heart of the World Cup, which was delayed from last year because of coronavirus.

Australia will play Fiji at Headingley on the first day of the men’s tournament and the stadium also stages the opening two games of the women’s event. Hetherington added: “Ourselves and the Kiwis have a long-shared history and this will be the chance to write a new chapter.

Leeds Rhinos chief, Gary Hetherington. Picture: Gary Longbottom/Yorkshire Evening Post.

“Our links with New Zealand include the many great players who have played for us down the years like Bert Cook, Dean Bell, Brent Webb and Ali Lauitiiti. It is also important for us, as a club, to give our next generation of players unique opportunities to grow and test themselves.

“One aspect of our game we have lost in the summer era is the chance for club players to test themselves against touring nations and this is a wonderful opportunity for our squad.”

Lauitiiti and another ex-Rhinos man Adrian Morley featured for Leeds as guest players in the sold-out fixture seven years ago and Hetherington pledged “some surprises in store” this time. Greg Peters, chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League, welcomed a “special” occasion. He said: “The match celebrates our return to the northern hemisphere after an international rugby league hiatus while also commemorating the long-shared history between New Zealand and Leeds that holds a special place in the hearts of Kiwi fans and legends.

“It is the perfect ground for our current and future Kiwis to pave their way against some of the Northern Hemisphere’s best.”

Ali Lauitiiti in action for Leeds Rhinos during the 2015 club-v-country international with New Zealand at Headingley. Picture: Steve Riding.

Tickets will be available to Rhinos members from Monday, May 23 and go on general sale on Monday, June 6. Advance tickets start from £24 for adults, £16 concessions and £12 for juniors aged 16 and under, with matchday prices rising by £3.