Leeds Rhinos bygones: Last of summer wine for winter warrior

Adrian Morley.
Adrian Morley.
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EMARKABLY, one member of the Leeds squad which finished third from bottom in the first Super League season, 18 years ago, is still playing in the top flight.

Adrian Morley turned out 21 times for Leeds in 1996, which was his third year as a member of the senior squad.

The former Eccles junior, who celebrated his 37th birthday last Thursday, played three games for Leeds in 1994-95 and 16 the following year and is the last man standing from British rugby league’s old winter era.

A notorious hardman on the field – and nice guy off it – Morley was a member of Leeds’ most recent Challenge Cup-winning team, playing in the second-row when London Broncos were crushed 52-16 at Wembley on May 1, 1999.

That team was coached by Graham Murray, who had also included Morley – by then emerging as one of the British game’s best forwards – in Leeds’ Grand Final side the previous year, when they were beaten by Wigan Warriors.

Murray left Leeds at the end of the 1999 season and when he was appointed coach of Sydney City Roosters he made signing Morley one of his first priorities.

The Salford-born pack ace played his final game for Leeds when they lost away to Bradford Bulls in the 2000 play-offs.

He wasn’t an instant hit in Australia and brushes with the disciplinary authorities meant a difficult settling in period. But once Morley found his feet he became one of the NRL’s top forwards, earning the respect of opponents throughout the competition.

Morley joined the elite group of players who have won a Grand Final in both hemispheres, playing in the second-row when Roosters crushed New Zealand Warriors in the 2002 NRL title decider.

The following year he earned lasting fame when he was sent-off after just 12 seconds of Great Britain’s Test clash with Australia in Wigan – his high shot on Robbie Kearns being the first tackle of the game.

Switched to prop, Morley played in Roosters’ 2004 Grand Final defeat by Canterbury Bulldogs and returned to Super League for a brief stint in the following year’s play-offs – when he helped Bradford Bulls beat Rhinos at Old Trafford.

Released by the Roosters at the end of 2006, he joined Warrington Wolves the following season and played for them in three Challenge Cup final wins – two as captain.

Rhinos were victims in 2010 and 2012, but gained some measure of revenge with a win over Morley’s Warrington at Old Trafford two years ago and he was a Grand Final runner-up against Wigan in 2013.

Now the oldest player in Super League, Morley achieved a long-term ambition when he signed for his home-town club Salford ahead of the 2014 campaign.

He is set to make his final appearance at Headingley when Salford are the visitors on Easter Monday.

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