THIS YEAR’S Grand Final was Super League’s 20th and half of those have featured Leeds Rhinos.
With eight wins Rhinos are the event’s most successful club, but they have also lost twice in title deciders, including the first in 1998.
Nineteen years ago tomorrow Rhinos played their part in an outstanding game and occasion, but were second-best to table-topping Wigan Warriors.
Rhinos beat Wigan at home and away in the regular season, but lost 17-4 at Central Park in a qualifying semi-final two weeks before the main event.
They bounced back to crush St Helens 44-16 in the final eliminator and led for a spell in the first half at Old Trafford before Wigan rallied to secure a deserve 10-4 victory.
New Zealand centre Richie Blackmore was the first player to score a try in a Grand Final, touching down from Ryan Sheridan’s pass at the end of the opening quarter.
Rhinos, brilliantly led by Iestyn Harris, were on top at that stage, but Wigan’s defence – with Kris Radlinski having an outstanding game – kept the league leaders in the contest.
In driving rain, Rhinos – runners-up in the table – also made some costly handling errors and conceded penalties which let Wigan off the hook when they seemed ready to crack.
Wigan struck back through what is still regarded as one of the great Grand Final tries, Jason Robinson slicing past Darren Fleary, Jamie Mathiou and Daryl Powell and then accelerating to the line.
Andy Farrell’s conversion made it 6-4 at the break and Wigan were the better team in the second half.
Farrell extended their advantage with a penalty goal and Neil Cowie had a touchdown disallowed by the video referee before Farrell completed the scoring with a penalty – the 13th for Wigan, to Leeds’ seven – in the last seconds.
A crowd of 43,553 made the event a success, though that was almost 30,000 fewer than saw Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers two weeks ago.
Wigan Warriors 10 (Try: Robinson. Goals: Farrell 3)
Leeds Rhinos 4 (Try: Blackmore)
October 24, 1998, Super League Grand Final, at Old Trafford
Wigan Warriors: Radlinski, Robinson, Moore, Connolly, Bell, Paul, Smith, O’Connor, McCormack, Mestrov, Gilmour, Holgate, Andy Farrell. Subs: Cowie, Cassidy, Johnson, Haughton.
Leeds Rhinos: Harris, Rivett, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins, Powell, Sheridan, Masella, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Anthony Farrell, Glanville, Subs: Mathiou, St Hilaire, Holroyd, Hay.
Referee: Russell Smith.