THE OPENING game of the 2002 season was one of Leeds Rhinos’ best – and most unexpected – wins of the summer era.
The bookies gave Rhinos an 18-point start when they travelled to Valley Parade to face newly-crowned World Club champions Bradford Bulls in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup. Bradford had embarrassed Rhinos 62-18 on the same ground in the sides’ final match of the regular 2001 Super League campaign and were expected to roll over their near-neighbours in front of the BBC television cameras.
After their 41-18 win over Newcastle Knights eight days earlier, pundits predicted Bulls could go through the season unbeaten, but Daryl Powell’s side had different ideas.
Inspired by an outstanding performance from scrum-half Ryan Sheridan, Leeds stunned the Super League Grand Final winners to record a magnificent 17-4 success, on February 2.
Rhinos gave a debut to Australian recruits Ben Walker and Matt Adamson, plus Wayne McDonald, Willie Poching and Adrian Vowles and all five played a key role.
It was a significant win for Leeds, who had endured some tough times – particularly with injuries – the previous season, but at last began to look like a side capable of challenging for honours. Matt Diskin had a fine game at hooker and Rob Burrow slotted into the unaccustomed No 9 role when he came off the bench.
It was a significant win for Leeds, who had endured some tough times – particularly with injuries – the previous season,Peter Smith
Bradford’s pack was tipped to dominate, but Barrie McDermott and Adamson matched them physically and created space for halves Walker and Sheridan to exploit.
Walker, at stand-off, scored the opening try from a kick by Sheridan and also tagged on the extras before landing a penalty to make it 8-0. Daniel Gartner pulled a try back before the break, but Sheridan dropped a goal early in the second half, soon after Leon Pryce – who was later banned for four games – was placed on report following a foul on Kevin Sinfield.
Pryce also conceded a penalty which Walker converted and Leeds sealed their place in the next round seven minutes from time when Sheridan forced his way over the line and Walker’s fourth goal completed the scoring.
Result? Bradford Bulls 4 (Try: Gartner) Leeds Rhinos 17 (Tries: B Walker, Sheridan. Goals: B Walker 4. Drop goal: Sheridan)
When? February 9, 2002, Challenge Cup round four
Bradford Bulls: Withers, Vaikona, Naylor, Gilmour, Vainikolo, Paul, Deacon, Vagana, Lowes, McDermott, Peacock, Gartner, Forshaw. Subs: Fielden, Anderson, Pryce, Costin.
Leeds Rhinos: Cummins, St Hilaire, Vowles, Senior, C Walker, B Walker, Sheridan, Fleary, Diskin, McDermott, Hay, Adamson, Sinfield. Subs: Poching, McDonald, Burrow, Jones-Buchanan.
Referee: Russell Smith.