TWENTY YEARS ago Leeds Rhinos had the most feared pack in Super League.
At the heart of that was front-rower Darren Fleary who celebrates his 46th birthday on Sunday, December 2.
Fleary was an unexpected success story. In 1997 he joined Leeds as part of a job lot of players snapped up from cash-strapped Keighley Cougars.
Daryl Powell was the star name in the group and Fleary was not tipped to make a significant impact, but within 18 months he had been capped by Great Britain.
The Huddersfield-born powerhouse, who played for Dewsbury before Keighley, proved to be exactly what Rhinos’ new coach Graham Murray wanted. Murray was determined Leeds would not only play good rugby, they would be tough with it and Fleary fitted the bill perfectly.
One of his finest hours came on Easter Sunday in 1998 at a frozen, snow-lashed Odsal when Fleary – and the rest of Rhinos’ pack – stunned champions Bradford Bulls.
Fleary set the tone with a ferocious hit on Graeme Bradley in the opening stages. The pack’s strong work – Anthony Farrell and Adrian Morley were also in top form – paved the way for Iestyn Harris to display the skills that eventually earned him the Man of Steel award that season.
With Fleary and Farrell leading the charge, Richie Blackmore’s try opened the scoring before it became the Harris show, the Welshman crossing twice before half-time and completing his hat-trick with 12 minutes left. He also kicked three goals. Matt Calland had pulled a try back for Bulls soon after the break, but Paul Sterling’s long-range try sealed one of Leeds’ most memorable Super League wins.
Late on, Bulls’ Sonny Nickle was sent off and Blackmore sin-binned following a punch-up and Stuart Spruce and Francis Cummins were yellow carded following another, separate, scuffle. Graham Holroyd had been sin-binned early in the second half, for interference.
After his time at Leeds, Fleary had spells with Huddersfield Giants and Leigh before retiring from rugby to work in the prison service.
Bradford Bulls 6
(Try: Callan. Goal: McNamara)
Leeds Rhinos 26 (Tries: Harris 3, Blackmore, Sterling. Goals: Harris 3)
Super League, April 12, 1998
Bradford Bulls: Spruce, Vaikona, Calland, Peacock, Scales, Bradley, Paul, Reihana, Dwyer, McDermott, Donougher, Forshaw, McNamara. Subs: Edwards, Jowitt, Nickle, Graham.
Leeds Rhinos: Harris, Sterling, Blackmore, Cummins, St Hilaire, Kemp, Sheridan, Masella, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Subs: Powell, Holroyd, Mathiou, Leroy Rivett.
Referee: Stuart Cummings.
Leeds were pipped 14-13 at Bradford Northern on this day in 1989, after Colin Maskill missed with a late conversion attempt from the touchline. He kicked two goals, Garry Schofield landed a drop and Phil Ford bagged a brace of tries.
The Loiners suffered their first defeat in eight matches when they lost 16-9 at Hull in the Floodlit Trophy second round on November 27. Les Dyl scored a spectacular try and Willie Oulton kicked three goals.
Tries by John Holmes, who also kicked two goals, John Burke and Ron Cowan helped Leeds to a 13-11 win at Castleford in a John Player Trophy second round tie 47 years ago today.
Missed kicks were costly for Leeds on this day in 1954 when they were beaten 18-14 at Huddersfield. Derek Wilkinson, Drew Turnbull, Jeff Stevenson and Lewis Jones (pictured) scored tries, but Jones managed only one goal.