As preparations begin for the new campaign, each Monday the Yorkshire Evening Post will pick out a key game from one of Leeds Rhinos’ past summer seasons. This week we look back at 1997 and a famous win over St Helens.
Twenty years ago Leeds were under fresh ownership and finally getting to grips with rugby league’s new era.
The club were initially reluctant to adapt to summer rugby and spent most of the inaugural campaign battling against relegation as a financial crisis mounted off the field.
A takeover in the autumn of 1996 by chairman Paul Caddick and chief executive Gary Hetherington was to transform the club’s fortunes.
The Rhinos name was adopted before the start of the 1997 season and a host of new faces came into the side, including Anthony Farrell, Damian Gibson, Dean Lawford, Martin Masella, Jamie Mathiou, Paul Sterling and Ryan Sheridan.
All made an impact, but the biggest statement of intent came a couple of months into the campaign when Leeds signed Iestyn Harris from Warrington in a £350,000 deal.
Harris made his debut off the bench in a one-point home defeat by Wigan and was promoted into the starting line-up at stand-off for the visit of St Helens – who had also been keen to sign him – a week later.
In his first full appearance Harris scored four goals and a drop goal, to add to a try by Sterling as Leeds pulled off a sensational victory against the defending champions.
In front of a crowd of more than 12,000 – 800 up on 1996’s best, against the same opposition – it was the night Super League took off in Leeds.
Saints scored two tries to one and looked set to break Leeds’ hearts when Bobbie Goulding crossed from his own high kick with seconds remaining.
Rhinos had been clinging on for much of the second half, but the touchdown cut their lead to just one point. Goulding had a conversion attempt from almost in front of the posts to win the game, but his kick bounced away off an upright and Leeds held on for a 13-12 triumph.
That set them up for a much-improved campaign which ended with them finishing fifth in the table, five places up on the previous year.
Leeds Rhinos 13 (Try: Sterling. Goals: Harris 4. Drop goal: Harris)
St Helens 12 (Tries: Perelini, Goulding. Goals: Goulding 2)
April 11, 1997, Super League
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.