Leeds Rhinos nostalgia: Youngster McGuire’s star show sinks Saints

Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield after the 2003 Challenge Cup semi-final.
Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield after the 2003 Challenge Cup semi-final.
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IN THE summer era Leeds Rhinos and St Helens have had a habit of meeting in the Challenge Cup.

Saturday’s fifth round clash at Headingley Carnegie will be the 10th tie involving the two clubs since Super League began in 1996, with Saints having won five and Leeds four so far.

Of those, the most famous and fondly remembered game from Rhinos’ point of view was the 2003 semi-final, at Huddersfield’s McAlpine Stadium, as it was then known.

The match – on April 12 – was rated at the time as possibly the greatest Challenge Cup semi-final ever played and for sheer drama, it would be hard to beat.

Saints went into the game as favourites, despite having been beaten 24-16 by Leeds in a Super League clash at Knowsley Road the week before the semi-final.

Leeds, though they weren’t expected to win, were on a fine run, having won their opening eight competitive games that year under coach Daryl Powell.

The team boss sprung a surprise when he named youngster Danny McGuire on the bench, ahead of Rob Burrow – and it was to be the game which shot the East Leeds product to national fame.

It was tight and tense throughout, but Saints looked to be heading to the final – at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – when Darren Smith went over for a try late on to give them a 26-20 lead.

Paul Sculthorpe’s conversion would have sealed it, but was off-target – though there were only three minutes left when play re-started.

Saints knocked on from the short kick and Leeds battled their way upfield before winning a penalty for offside, allowing McGuire to throw a dummy and dive over at the corner.

The video referee awarded the try and Kevin Sinfield kicked the extras from the touchline to send the game into extra-time.

Saints’ Mike Bennett had a touchdown ruled out for offside at the start of the third period, of 10 minutes, which ended with Sinfield booting a drop goal to nose Leeds ahead.

Mick Higham almost forced his way over with just two minutes left, but magnificent defence forced a hand-over and Leeds surged upfield to snatch a thrilling winning score.

Dave Furner began the move and supplied Sinfield, whose pass sent McGuire racing away, footwork taking him past Darren Albert to the corner, for a try which was confirmed by the video ref.

Sinfield landed another conversion from the touchline, on the other side of the field this time and Leeds won the game 33-26.

Mark Calderwood also crossed twice, Francis Cummins was the other try scorer and Sinfield finished with six goals, plus the one-pointer.

Celebrations were marred by the news Aussie forward Matt Adamson had suffered a fractured cheekbone, though he played in the final two weeks later – which Leeds lost to Bradford Bulls.