OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR Russell Crowe helped Leeds Rhinos pull in the crowds during an exhibition game in the United States eight years ago.
On January 26, 2008, a full house of 12,000 packed the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, in Jacksonville, where Rhinos were facing South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The match itself wasn’t the major attraction, but star-struck locals flocked to get a glimpse of Crowe – Souths’ owner – who had promised to attend.
The Gladiator star duly turned up – along with pals including golf superstar Greg Norman and Muhammad Ali’s former trainer Angelo Dundee – and mingled with fans before, during and after the game, which was played in a carnival atmosphere.
Rhinos – coming off the back of the first of their three successive Grand Final wins – had to play second fiddle to Souths in the build-up and were determined to set the record straight once the action got underway.
For 40 minutes everything went to plan. Leeds, a week away from their Super League opener at home to Hull KR, were better prepared and it showed as they dashed into a 26-0 interval lead, but they had to withstand a torrid second 40 before hanging on for a 26-24 win.
With new coach Brian McClennan in charge, Rhinos took an early lead when Matt Diskin touched down from Gareth Ellis’ pass and Kevin Sinfield kicked the first of his three goals. Lee Smith and Clinton Toopi created a fine try for Brent Webb and then Burrow began and ended a move also involving Webb, Toopi, Danny McGuire and Diskin.
Keith Senior added Leeds’ fourth try and Scott Donald touched down from Burrow’s kick, after the no7 had taken the ball from Luke Burgess’ off-load.
At that stage Leeds were cruising, but McClennan made a series of changes in the second half and Souths – whose substitutes included current Leeds hooker Beau Falloon – staged an unexpected rally.
Ben Rogers, Isaac Luke and Eddie Paea all crossed and Carl Ablett and Nick Scruton made desperate last-ditch tackles before George Ndaira scooted over for the Australian club’s fourth try – all of which were converted – on the final play of the game.
Leeds Rhinos 26
(Tries Diskin, Webb, Burrow, Senior, Donald. Goals Sinfield 3)
South Sydney 24 (Tries Rogers, Luke, Paea, Ndaira. Goals Paea 2, Luke, Ndaira)
Challenge match at Hodges Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida, January 26, 2008
Leeds Rhinos: Webb, Donald, Toopi, Senior, Smith,McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, Sinfield. Subs: Lauitiiti, Kirke, Ablett, Scruton, Gibson, Tansey, Hall, Williams, Burgess, Kaye,Haley.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Champion, Paulson,Talanoa, Gordon, Hegarty, Rogers, Paea, Greenfield, Luke, Manuokafoa, Stuart, B Lowe, Sutton. Subs: Falloon, Huihahau, J Lowe, Pettybourne, Simpson, Barnes, Tamanika, Ndaira, McPherson.
Referee: Phil Bentham.