WEDNESDAY WILL be the 20th anniversary of the first Super League Grand Final.
League leaders Wigan Warriors and second-placed Leeds Rhinos battled through the top-five play-offs to meet at Old Trafford, where the Headingley side were beaten 10-4.
Debate has raged ever since over whether play-offs are a fair way to decide the championship, but the Grand Final was actually a return to rugby league’s most tried and tested method.
From 1907 to 1974 the team winning the final game of the season were crowned champions.
Initially that was through top-four plays-offs, but the concept was expanded to top-16 in 1964-65.
In 1973-74 two divisions were reintroduced and rugby league adopted a first post the post system with the team finishing top being crowned champions.
Play-offs continued, involving the top-eight teams, with the finalists competing for the Premiership Trophy.
That was introduced a year after Leeds, who finished third, had been stunned 22-13 by eighth-placed Dewsbury in the Championship final.
It wasn’t Warrington’s year then either. They topped the table, but lost 12-7 at home to Dewsbury in the semi-finals.
Leeds were the first Premiership winners and repeated the feat in 1979.
The first two years of Super League continued with first past the post, but Australian-style play-offs began in 1998.
Under a format similar to the one being introduced next year, Leeds beat Halifax 13-6 in a qualifying play-off before losing 17-4 at Wigan in the qualifying semi-final.
Wigan went straight through to Old Trafford and Rhinos joined them after thrashing St Helens 44-16 at Headingley in the final eliminator.
Leeds had not won the title since 1972, but had beaten Wigan at home and away in the regular season.
In driving rain, coach Graham Murray’s side dominated much of the opening period and scored the first try through Richie Blackmore, but Leeds-born Jason Robinson ran in a sensational solo touchdown to equalise and Andy Farrell’s conversion sent Wigan in with a 6-4 interval lead.
Two Farrell penalty goals produced the only points in the second half.
Wigan Warriors 10 (Try: Robinson. Goals: Farrell 3)
Leeds Rhinos 4 (Try: Blackmore)
October 24, 1998, Super League Grand Final
Wigan Warriors: Radlinski, Robinson, Moore, Connolly, Bell, Paul, Smith, O’Connor, McCormack, Mestrov, Gilmour, Holgate, Farrell. Subs: Cowie, Cassidy, Johnson, Haughton.
Leeds Rhinos: Harris, Rivett, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins, Powell, Sheridan, Masella, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Subs: Mathiou, St Hilaire, Holroyd, Hay.
Referee: Russell Smith.
Attendance: 43,553, at Old Trafford.
ON THIS DAY
1922: Leeds suffered only their second defeat of the season on this day in 1922, losing 5-2 to Batley at Mount Pleasant. Syd Walmsley kicked Leeds’ goal.
1978: The loiners were beaten 11-9 at Rochdale Hornets 40 years ago today. Forward Neil Lean made his debut for Leeds whose points came from a Butch Adams try and three goals by Chris Gibson.
1985: Brendan Hill scored Leeds’ only try in a 28-6 home loss to Wigan on October 24. David Creasser added a goal as Leeds suffered their third defeat in four games.
1990: Leeds gave Australia a fright in a tour game at Headingley 28 years ago yesterday. The Kangaroos won 22-10, but Leeds had led 10-0 through tries by John Gallagher and Paul Dixon and a Simon Irving goal.
Richie Mathers, a Grand Final winner for Leeds in 2004, celebrates his 35th birthday on Wednesday.