POSSIBLY THE best individual try ever seen at Headingley was scored in a game played 18 years ago this week.
On July 18, 1997, Leeds Rhinos beat Adelaide Rams 22-14 in their first home game of the World Club Championship.
That was a short-lived and ill-fated concept, involving all the Super League clubs on both sides of the world, at a time when Australia had two rival competitions.
Leeds were in a group including North Queensland Cowboys and Adelaide and lost to both Aussie sides during a trip Down Under, in June.
The following month the Australians made the return journey and a crowd of 11,269 turned up at Headingley to see if Rhinos could hit back.
The Yorkshire Evening Post’s match report described the clash between Super League’s second-placed side and the team second from bottom in the Aussie competition as “a magnificent game and a genuine ‘you had to be there’ night, which will be talked about for years to come”.
It was also a match which secured winger Paul Sterling’s place in Headingley history.
A tense encounter looked to be going down to the wire when Solomon Kiri touched down for the visitors and Luke Williamson kicked the conversion, to reduce Leeds’ lead to just six points deep in the second half, but what happened next was very special.
Rams’ restart found Sterling on Leeds’ line, in front of the South Stand. The veteran winger tore upfield, went inside and out and the down the touchline to score at the corner, 100 metres from where he had caught the ball and with the entire Adelaide defence – including full-back Michael Maguire, later to coach Wigan Warriors – left flat-footed in his wake.
The try brought the house down and ensured it was going to be Rhinos’ night and their first competitive victory over Australian opposition. Sterling, who will turn 51 next month, scored 55 tries in 101 appearances for Leeds from 1997-2000, but that was his finest moment.
Rhinos led Rams 8-0 at half-time, thanks to an early penalty goal from Iestyn Harris and a try by Damian Gibson, off a kick from Harris, who also converted. Williamson landed a penalty at the start of the second period, but Phil ‘Prince’ Hassan capped a strong game by going over for Leeds’ second try, from Graham Holroyd’s long pass. Harris converted and then, after Dean Schifilliti had scored a try which Williamson improved to put the result back in the balance at 18-14, rounded off the scoring with two late penalty goals.
Leeds Rhinos 22
(Tries: Gibson, Hassan, Sterling. Goals: Harris 5)
Adelaide Rams 14
(Tries: Kiri, Schifilliti. Goals: Williamson 3)
world club championship jULY 18, 1997
Leeds Rhinos: Holroyd, Sterling, Gibson, Hassan, Golden, Harris, Sheridan, Masella, Collins, Mathiou, Morley, Farrell, Mercer. Subs: Rivett, Hay, Newton, Field.
Adelaide Rams: Maguire, Simonds, Wrigley, Kiri, Grimley, Williamson, Stone, Hick, Walters, Corvo, Galea, Boughton, Blair. Subs: Mamando, Schifilliti, Pierce, Paiyo.
Referee: Russell Smith.