ARGUMENTS OVER who is the greatest player in Leeds rugby league’s history usually come down to three names: Lewis Jones, John Holmes and Kevin Sinfield.
Jones was the gloriously talented Golden Boy of Welsh rugby union, who became a record-breaking centre or stand-off in rugby league, scoring points totals for Leeds which it was expected would never be beaten.
That was until Sinfield came along. Undoubtedly Leeds’ finest captain, he set new club marks for most goals and points and captained the club through their most outstanding era.
In between came Holmes, the ultimate local boy made good. Nobody has played more games for Leeds than the Kirkstall maestro, who was at the heart of a previous golden time for the club in the late 1960s and 70s.
Though he started as a goal-kicking full-back, Holmes had every skill needed by the modern stand-off and he would have been a sensation in Super League, when – under the 10-metre rule – his vision and ability to read a game would have allowed him to pick defences apart.
Holmes, who died in 2009, won every available honour for Leeds, but possibly the finest of his 625 games – from 1968-89 – was played 38 years ago this week, on May 13, 1978.
Leeds went into the Challenge Cup final against St Helens as holders, but trailed 10-0 after 12 minutes and were 12-5 down at the break.
Tries by Graham Liptrott and Bill Francis, with Geoff Pimblett converting both, left Leeds shellshocked, before Holmes’ long pass began a move which ended with John Atkinson touching down for a try which Willie Oulton improved.
Pimblett kicked a penalty before the interval, but David Ward landed a drop goal soon afterwards and then Holmes fed Neil Hague and he sent David Smith in.
Inside the final 10 minutes Leeds levelled when Phil Cookson forced his way over from close range, off Holmes’ pass.
Two minutes from time Holmes produced a moment of magic to edge Leeds ahead, landing an astonishing left-footed drop goal.
Ward added another to make it 14-12, but Leeds had an escape in the final seconds when Saints’ Derek Noonan knocked on with the line at his mercy.
(Tries: Atkinson, D Smith, Cookson. Goal: Oulton. Drop goals: Ward 2, Holmes)
St Helens 12 (Tries: Liptrott, Francis. Goals: Pimblett 3).
May 13, 1978, Challenge Cup final, at Wembley.
Leeds: Oulton, D Smith, Hague, Dyl, Atkinson, Holmes, Sanderson, M Harrison, Ward, Pitchford, Eccles, Cookson, Crane. Subs Dick, Dickinson.
St Helens: Pimblett, Jones, Noonan, Glynn, Mathias, Francis, Gwilliam, Chisnall, Liptrott, James, Cunningham, Nicholls, Pinner. Subs Ashton, Karalius.
Referee: Billy Thompson.