Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has hailed their growing relationship with Leeds United as his club bid to break the Super League attendance record during two matches at Elland Road next season.
The defending champions begin their title defence in a televised fixture at Warrington Wolves on Thursday, February 1 but it is the following week’s game they hope will capture the imagination of the whole city.
With rebuilding work ongoing at Emerald Headingley, Brian McDermott’s side have taken an opportunity to hold their first ‘home’ match against newly-promoted Hull KR at Elland Road on Thursday, February 8.
They will also repeat the move when hosting derby rivals Castleford Tigers there in a Grand Final re-match on Friday, March 23.
By taking such intriguing games across the city – Rhinos legend Danny McGuire will face his hometown team for the first time when lining up with the Robins – Leeds hope to break the competition crowd record of 25,004, set when Wigan Warriors hosted St Helens in 2005.
“We are delighted to be able to announce these two showcase events for Leeds Rhinos and Rugby League at Elland Road,” said Hetherington.
“Under the leadership of chairman Andrea Radrizzani we have been able to work closely with Leeds United on projects that will benefit both clubs but most importantly benefit our home city here in Leeds.
“This is a win-win situation for both clubs. As owners of Elland Road, Leeds United know, as we do ourselves, how it is important to generate income from the stadium by hosting a variety of events and we will be hoping to bring large numbers to both these games.
“For ourselves, we recognise that we have a duty to try and expand the game of Rugby League by creating bigger events for our own supporters and the wider public to enjoy.
“Whilst centrally, the game has grown events such as the Magic Weekend and Grand Final, it is important that the clubs play their part as we have seen in the rugby union Premiership over the last decade.
“That is why we are developing Emerald Headingley Stadium with a £40m project and why we have been working so hard to keep the World Club Challenge as an active part of our competition.
“These two games at Elland Road will be fantastic occasions and our aim is to break the Super League regular season attendance record with these events.
“I am sure Danny McGuire will get a tremendous reception on his return to the city for the Hull KR clash and our first meeting of next season against Castleford will be eagerly anticipated.”
Rhinos’ first game at Headingley Stadium will be on Friday, March 2 against Catalans Dragons, with the capacity expected to still only be around 12,500.
They played World Club Challenge games at Elland Road in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 but these are the first Super League fixtures to be staged there.
Leeds-born McGuire, 34, ended his long association with the Rhinos by leading them to an eighth Grand Final win against Castleford last month, securing man-of-the-match in the process.
The veteran stand-off – an ardent Leeds United fan – has signed a two-year deal with Hull KR, who start back in the top-flight after a season’s absence with the visit of Wakefield Trinity on Friday, February 2.
The 2017 League Leaders’ Shield winners Castleford begin in front of the Sky Sports cameras at St Helens on Friday, February 2.
They also kick-off the Easter weekend with their derby at Wakefield on Thursday, March 29.
Sky Sports will continue to show two games a week and following feedback from supporters, media and clubs, there will now be an earlier kick-off time of 7.45pm for all televised Thursday- and Friday-night matches.
In the Championship, Dewsbury Rams start at home to Sheffield Eagles on Friday, February 2.
Featherstone Rovers host Halifax and Batley Bulldogs head to Rochdale Hornets on Sunday, February 4.
Meanwhile, Leeds have confirmed their pre-season itinerary.
It begins on Boxing Day (11.30am) with the traditional Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge against Wakefield – this time at Belle Vue – before breaking new ground when a side will travel to play Coventry Bears on Friday, January 19 (7.45pm) at the Butts Park Arena.
Rhinos visit the Mend-A-Hose Jungle to face Castleford on Sunday, January 21 (3pm), are at Featherstone on Friday, January 26 before facing Keighley Cougars at Lawkholme Lane for Brendon Rawlins’ testimonial on Sunday, February 4 (3pm).
Finally, Leeds Rhinos visit neighbours Hunslet RLFC at the South Leeds Stadium in the Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Cup on Friday, February 9 (7.30pm).