Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Makeshift title-chasers and star full-back pay hefty price at St Helens

John Gallagher.
John Gallagher.
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DEFEAT AT Knowsley Road 25 years ago this week proved costly for Leeds and one of their star players in particular.

The patched-up visitors gave a much better account of themselves than most of their fans expected before going down 22-16 on January 20, 1991.

The loss realistically ended Leeds’ hopes of winning the Division One title, but the main talking point afterwards was the treatment handed to full-back John Gallagher.

The former All Black had been rated the best rugby union player in the world when he switched codes the previous summer and had made an impressive start to his league career, but quickly became a target for opposition players.

Early in the second half Gallagher gathered a grubber kick deep in Leeds territory and tried to run the ball back, but was upended and dumped to the ground by two Saints defenders in what looked to be a spear tackle.

The ball came loose and play was stopped for Gallagher to receive treatment. Badly shaken, he had to go off and was replaced by John Bentley. The injury seemed to affect Gallagher’s confidence for the rest of his time at Leeds.

Instead of awarding a penalty, referee John Holdsworth gave Saints head and feed at a scrum and Sean Devine cut through for a try which opened a 14-6 lead.

Twice after that Leeds players were pulled back off the ball when supporting a David Heron break and the visitors had to settle for penalty goals from Simon Irving to cut the deficit to four points.

Saints’ clinching try was a self-inflicted wound, Phil Ford dropping the ball and the hosts’ Tea Ropati scoring straight from the scrum.

Leeds did manage a late consolation try through Gary Divorty, to add to an earlier touchdown from Ford, who had a fine game until his crucial blunder.

It was a battling effort by a makeshift Leeds team that was without six players through injury or suspension.

Heron returned from a five-month lay-off and it was Tony Butt’s first senior appearance for more than four years.


St Helens 22

(Tries Quirk, Devine, Ropati. Goals Loughlin 5)

Leeds 16
(Tries Ford, Divorty. Goals Irving 4)

Division One 
January 20, 1991

St Helens: Connolly, Hunte, Ropati, Loughlin, Quirk, Veivers, Devine, Evans, Grove, Mann, Harrison, Dwyer, Cooper. Subs Griffiths, Neill.

Leeds: Gallagher, Ford, Irving, Gibson, Rombo, Heron, Harkin, Powell, Maskill, Butt, Lord, Kuiti, Divorty. Subs Bentley, Gunn.

Referee: John Holdsworth.

Attendance: 8,188.