THIRTY-FOUR years ago today Leeds edged into the John Player Trophy final with a tense and tough 8-2 win over Widnes at Huddersfield’s Fartown ground.
The semi-final wasn’t an occasion for faint hearts. The Yorkshire Evening Post’s Trevor Watson described it as “a fierce and sometimes unpleasant game that was well below the normally high sporting standard between these teams”.
Leeds’ Kevin Rayne was “booked” for a trip, but opponent Tony Myler was lucky not to be sent-off after a foul on John Holmes inside the opening five minutes.
Widnes – possibly annoyed at having to get out of bed early for the 12.30pm start – lost the penalty count 20-11 and were penalised six times for dissent in a game which produced no tries.
It was the way Leeds handled Widnes’ roughhouse tactics that steered them through. Watson added: “Leeds kept their cool and their magnificent forwards, the front-three in particular, dominated as they had 80 per cent of the play.
“The reason they had no tries to show for their marked superiority was a mixture of a tremendous Widnes defence, a clinging pitch that limited attacking ambitions and a certain lack of sharpness at vital moments.”
Star of the show for the Loiners was front-rower Roy Dickinson who produced his best performance of the season, knocking Widnes backwards with a series of powerful runs and some rock-solid defence.
Tony Burke, Leeds’ other prop, also stood out alongside hooker and captain David Ward and twins Kevin and Keith Rayne in the second-row.
The backs had little opportunity to shine, but stand-off Holmes’ cover defence was crucial and Neil Hague, at full-back, handled well in difficult conditions.
Widnes targeted Leeds’ young scrum-half Mark Conway, who was twice the victim of a swinging boot as he gathered the ball, but he kicked four goals from six attempts and had a touchdown disallowed.
He was also close to scoring late on when he raced clear from acting-half and chipped over full-back Mick Burke, but lost his footing.
Burke scored Widnes’ only points with a penalty goal.
(Goals Conway 4)
Widnes 2 (Goal Burke)
john player trophy semi-final far town, december 28, 1982
Leeds: Hague, Alan Smith, Wilkinson, Dyl, Andy Smith, Holmes, Conway, Dickinson, Ward, A Burke, Keith Rayne, Kevin Rayne, D Heron.
Widnes: M Burke, Hughes, O’Loughlin, Cunningham, Lydon, A Myler, Gregory, M O’Neill, Elwell, S O’Neill, Tamati (Newton), Prescott, Adams.
Referee: Stan Wall.