Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Unlimited tackle rule almost denies Leeds place in Wembley final

Jeff Stevenson.
Jeff Stevenson.
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LONG BEFORE Marching On Together, Leeds’ battle anthem was the song Keep Right on to the End of the Road.

That’s what the Loiners did in 1957, when they went all the way to Wembley and claimed the Challenge Cup after a tense 9-7 victory over Barrow.

Leeds also needed to go right until the end of their semi-final against Whitehaven, played on March 30, 1957.

The Headingley side had to dig deep into the Odsal mud to snatch a famous win, after all had seemed lost.

At the time rugby league was played under the unlimited-tackle rule. That meant a team in possession could keep hold of the ball until they knocked-on, kicked, were penalised in possession or scored.

That was eventually changed in 1966 when the four-tackle law was introduced, initially for Floodlit Trophy matches and then – midway through the season – for all games.

The new rule was altered in 1972 so if a team was caught in possession after six tackles the game would be restarted with a scrum and, in 1983, it was amended to the current rule of a hand-over after six tackles.

The 1957 semi-final was a classic example of why limited tackles were brought into the game.

Leeds led 6-4 at half-time, George Broughton crossing twice to bookend penalty goals from Whitehaven’s John McKeown.

Lewis Jones kicked a penalty for Leeds in the second half, but McMenemy went over for a try and McKeown’s conversion made it 9-8.

Whitehaven then adopted safety first tactics of playing the ball and the acting-half being tackled in possession.

Leeds managed to snatch the ball back once, but Del Hodgkinson was tackled into touch and Whitehaven were back in possession with 15 minutes left.

They played the ball 40 times after that and 39 times the acting-half was tackled in possession.

On the 40th Leeds’ Joe Anderson, at marker, dived round to fall on the ball.

Acting-half Harry Street passed to Jeff Stevenson and the scrum-half landed a long-range drop goal – then worth two points – out of the quagmire to snatch a 10-9 victory and send Leeds to Wembley.


Leeds 10

(Tries: Broughton 2. Goal: Jones. Drop goal Stevenson)

Whitehaven 9
(Try: McMenemy. Goals McKeown 3)

March 30, 1957. Challenge Cup semi-final.

Leeds: Quinn, Hodgkinson, McLellan, Jones, Broughton, Lendill, Stevenson, Anderson, Prior, Hopper, Poole, Robinson, Street.

Whitehaven: McKeown, Smith, McMenemy, Lowdon, Mullinder, Garratt, Banks, Vincent, McKinnell, Donaldson, McCourt, Huddart, Robinson.

Referee: N Railton (Wigan).

Attendance: 49,094.