DEFENDING CHAMPIONS Leeds Rhinos kicked-off the Super League season with victory in an historic fixture seven years ago this week.
On February 6, 2009, Rhinos faced Celtic Crusaders in the visitors’ first game at the top level, after the Welsh outfit had been granted a Super League licence the previous year.
Leeds, coached by Brian McClennan, were backing up from a second successive Grand Final triumph over St Helens, but the weather almost scuppered their plans.
More than 100 tonnes of snow had to be removed from the pitch to enable the game to go ahead and Leeds repaid the ground staff’s hard work with a 28-6 win.
Both teams looked rusty in their first competitive fixture, which was played a week earlier than the official opening to the season in order to create space in the calendar for Rhinos’ forthcoming World Club Challenge showdown with Melbourne Storm.
Crusaders’ Australian contingent had only arrived in the country a few days earlier and they had just one full training session, but came out of the game with credit after sharing the points in the second half.
Leeds had the points in the bag by the 35th minute, when they raced into a 22-0 lead, but they took their foot off the gas after that and the expected avalanche of tries did not materialise.
Full-back Lee Smith scored Leeds’ first and last tries of the first half – the second of them created by debutant Paul McShane – and Scott Donald and Ryan Hall also crossed.
The steam went out of the game in the second period as the temperature dropped and both teams began to make errors.
Luke Dyer scored Crusaders’ first Super League try, Josh Hannay converting, on 57 minutes and the next notable incident came seven minutes from time when Adam Peek and Rhinos’ Jamie Peacock were sin-binned for fighting.
On the final play Carl Ablett avoided a second half whitewash by touching down Leeds’ fifth try and Kevin Sinfield booted his fourth goal.
Leeds Rhinos 28 (Tries: Smith 2, Donald, Hall, Ablett. Goals Sinfield 4)
Celtic Crusaders 6
(Try: Dyer. Goal Hannay)
Super League February 6, 2009
Leeds Rhinos: L Smith, Donald, Watkins, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Lauitiiti, Ablett. Subs: Kirke, Burgess, Allan, McShane. Celtic Crusaders: Duggan, Dyer, Hannay, Delle Cort, Blackwood, M Smith, Van Dijk, O’Hara, Budworth, Bryant, Peek, Mapp, Lupton. Subs: Quinn, Flower, James, Beasley.
Referee: Ben Thaler.