ONE OF Leeds Rhinos’ most memorable Super League wins occurred 19 years ago today.
It was the second season of summer rugby and the newly renamed club, under fresh owners Paul Caddick and Gary Hetherington, were beginning to rebuild after a disastrous campaign in 1996.
Having won only six games the previous season, Leeds opened with three Challenge Cup victories over lower division opposition and then beat Oldham Bears and Paris in the league.
But for the second successive year they suffered a Cup semi-final defeat to Bradford and that was followed by losses against Halifax and – by one point – to Wigan.
Chief executive Gary Hetherington had already got the cheque book out to sign Iestyn Harris from Warrington and he made his debut as a substitute against Wigan.
Coach Dean Bell handed Harris his first start the following week when champions St Helens visited Headingley, on April 11, 1997.
It was the night Super League really took off in Leeds. In front of a crowd of 12,683, Harris demonstrated the skills which were to win him the coveted Man of Steel honour the following year.
Leeds’ big pack was in dominant form, led by Adrian Morley and Anthony Farrell and there were also outstanding performances from full-back Damian Gibson and centres Richie Blackmore and Phil Hassan.
Harris’ kick set up the opening try for winger Paul Sterling.
Harris converted and booted three penalties to give Leeds a 12-8 interval lead.
Apollo Perelini touched down for the visitors in the first half, Bobbie Goulding converting and landing a penalty.
Harris added a drop goal with seven minutes left, but disaster struck in the final seconds when Goulding gathered his own bomb to cross just to the right of the posts at the eastern end of the ground.
That set up the formality of a conversion to snatch the points, but incredibly Goulding’s kick bounced away off an upright and Leeds saw out one final set with the ball before the hooter signalled a 13-12 victory.
For Bell, it was one of his best wins as a coach. He said: “Games like that are few and far between – and we usually lose them. The players worked hard and deserved it.”
Leeds Rhinos 13
(Try: Sterling. Goals: Harris 4. Drop goal: Harris)
St Helens 12 (Tries: Perelini, Goulding. Goals: Goulding 2)
Leeds Rhinos: Gibson, Sterling, Blackmore, Hassan, St Hilaire, Harris, Sheridan, Masella, Collins, Mathiou, A Morley, Farrell, Mercer. Subs Holroyd, Hughes, Newton, Fozzard.
St Helens: Prescott, Arnold, Hunte, Matautia, Sullivan, Martyn, Goulding, Perelini, Cunningham, O’Neill, Joynt, C Morley, Hammond. Subs Haig, Northey, Anderson, Pickavance.
Referee: Robert Connolly.