A PRE-SEASON game between Leeds and hosts Bramley would not normally attract worldwide attention, but the one played on August 10, 1990, did.
Paul Fletcher and Peter Lister, two Bramley stalwarts who had begun their careers with Leeds, must have jumped for joy when they heard their old club had signed All Blacks star John Gallagher and were planning on giving him a debut in their testimonial game.
Gallagher had recently been hailed as “the best rugby player in the world” and his decision to cross codes and take up a big money offer with Leeds was huge news.
A crowd estimated at 4,000 turned up to see how Gallagher would get on. To put things into perspective, Bramley’s average attendance in the 1990-91 season was 805 and they reached four figures only twice.
Gallagher lined up at full-back and gave the Leeds fans at McLaren Field – now a housing estate – what they had come to see by scoring a try in a 54-6 rout.
The ex-All Black began the move which led to Leeds’ opening score, sending Warren Wilson into a gap before the winger supplied Rob Ackerman with the final pass.
Gallagher’s try came on 18 minutes when he backed up John Bentley to score untouched from 25 yards.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported: “His first game of rugby league was one of rich promise, which should guarantee more packed grounds throughout the North this season.”
Gallagher looked vulnerable under the high ball, but made one outstanding tackle to barge Gary Barnett into touch.
Also on show was Kenyan winger Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Rombo, who came on as a half-time substitute and scored with his first touch.
But it was Leeds’ other recruits who really shone on a scorching afternoon.
Former Headingley Rugby Union centre Simon Irving caught the eye by crossing for a brace of tries and kicking seven goals in what the Yorkshire Evening Post said was a “performance bursting with skill and perception”.
Leeds also introduced 32-year-old scrum-half Paul Harkin, a summer capture from Bradford Northern and he bossed the midfield while ex-Castleford and Halifax prop Neil James made a big impact with his strong running and clever offloading.
Wilson scored two tries and Richard Gunn, Vince Fawcett and Cavill Heugh also touched down. Barnett scored Bramley’s only try, after Steve Carroll had opened their scoring with a penalty goal.