Leeds Rhinos Bygones: The highs and lows of Premiership rugby

Richie Blackmore.
Richie Blackmore.
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THE LAST time Leeds won a Premiership Trophy tie was 17 years ago today, when Oldham Bears were beaten 42-16 at Headingley.

The Premiership was a play-off tournament introduced in 1975 and Leeds were the inaugural champions, beating St Helens 26-11 at Central Park, Wigan. The previous season rugby league in this country had split into two divisions and under the new format the team finishing top of the Division One table were crowned champions.

That ended a seven-decade tradition of play-offs to decide the country’s top team and for one campaign, 1973-74, a new 16-team Club Championship was introduced, which ended with Warrington beating St Helens 13-12 in the final.

The 1975 Premiership involved the top 12 teams from Division One, plus the leading four from the second tier, in an open draw, but from 1976 onwards the sides finishing from first to eighth in the first division took part, with one at home to eight, two hosting seven and so on in the first round.

The semi-finals were played over two legs, with the highest-placed clubs having the choice of whether to be at home in the first or second match.

Two-legged ties were abandoned in 1980-81, but a Division Two Premiership began in 1987.

The Premiership final was staged at Manchester United’s Old Trafford from 1987 onwards and continued for the first two years of summer rugby.

In 1996 the top-four teams played off and Leeds did not qualify.

The following season all 12 Super League teams took part and Leeds were at home to bottom club Oldham in the preliminary round.

This was Oldham Bears’ final game and Leeds were too strong, with Richie Blackmore, Leroy Rivett, Francis Cummins, Darren Fleary, Graham Holroyd, Terry Newton, Martin Masella and Dean Lawford scoring tries and Iestyn Harris landing five goals in front of a crowd of just 4,908.

The prize for victory was a trip to Central Park and Leeds’ last Premiership tie ended in a 38-22 defeat to Wigan, who went on to beat St Helens in the final.

A new Championship play-offs series was introduced the following year, when Leeds lost to Wigan in the first Grand Final.

The Premiership was not a happy competition for Leeds, who reached the final only three times and won the trophy twice.

After their 1975 victory they had to wait four years for their next appearance in the decider, when Syd Hynes’ side produced a brilliant display to thrash Bradford Northern 24-2 at Fartown, Huddersfield.

Leeds were back in the final, at Old Trafford, in 1995, but it was a disaster as they were embarrassed 69-12 by Wigan, which was a record score and winning margin.

In the Premiership’s 23-year history, the highest final attendance was 42,043 when Hull beat Widnes in 1991. To date, the Grand Final’s lowest crowd was 43,533 in its inaugural 1998 season.

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