Peter Smith: Rhinos set to unveil first hall of fame inductees

Garry Schofield.
Garry Schofield.
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RUGBY LEAGUE did not begin in 1996, though it sometimes seems like it.

That year was a significant point in the sport’s history, marking the shift to a summer season and start of Super League, but the previous 101 should not be forgotten.

John Holmes.

John Holmes.

Leeds Rhinos are the latest club to introduce a players’ hall of fame and that is a welcome development and something long overdue.

Today is the 60th anniversary of Leeds’ 9-7 Wembley Challenge Cup win over Barrow, who, coincidentally, visit Headingley on Sunday in the sixth round of this season’s competition. Leeds also won the Cup in 1977, beating Widnes beneath the Twin Towers on May 7.

A reunion dinner is being held at Headingley tonight to celebrate both anniversaries and the first four members of the club’s hall of fame will be announced. The identity of the players is being kept under wraps, but each meets four criteria: to have played a minimum of 150 first-team games for the club, made an exceptional contribution to rugby in the city, achieved representative honours during their playing career and been retired for a minimum of five years.

The hall of fame – specifically for players rather than coaches or administrators – is a fitting link with the past and recognition for the club’s greatest names. The plan is for four inductees to be announced each year, at a celebration dinner to mark a major anniversary.

Lewis Jones.

Lewis Jones.

Next year, for example, will be half a century since the most famous rugby league match of all, the Watersplash Challenge Cup final and 40 years after Leeds beat St Helens at Wembley. In 2019 Rhinos will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their second Championship triumph and 20 years – 20 years! – since the record victory over London Broncos in the last Cup final staged at the old Wembley.

Hall of fame inductees will be decided by Rhinos’ heritage committee and the club’s board of directors. No attempt is being made to rank members in terms of status – so the four revealed tonight will not necessarily be the greatest quartet to play for the club. It is likely, however, that the anniversaries will be marked, so players from 1957 and/or 1977 could be included tonight. The heritage committee have more than a century of players to select from, so, if you were making the decision, who would you choose? Under the current criteria here’s Inside Rugby League’s suggestion for the first four inductees.

1: Prop-forward Fred Webster

1902-1919. 543 appearances, 76 tries, 4 goals.

Representative honours: Great Britain.

Impact: A member of the first Leeds team to win the Challenge Cup, in 1910, Webster is second in the club’s all-time list of appearances.

He scored eight tries – still a joint-record for Leeds – in a 102-0 win over Coventry at Headingley in 1913.

2: Centre/stand-off Lewis Jones

1952-64. 385 appearances, 144 tries, 1,244 goals.

Representative honours: Wales, British Lions (rugby union), Wales, Other Nationalities, Great Britain.

Impact: A member of Leeds’ first Championship-winning team, in 1961, Jones set a host of club records including goals and points in a match, season and career.

3: Full-back/stand-off John Holmes

1968-1989, 604 appearances (plus 21 sub), 153 tries, 525 goals, 29 drop goals.

Representative honours: Yorkshire, England, Great Britain.

Impact: Leeds’ greatest servant, nobody has played more games for the club. Holmes, who died in 2009, won every available domestic honour.

4: Centre/stand-off Garry Schofield OBE

1987-1996. 251 appearances (7 sub), 147 tries: 64 goals: 30 drop goals.

Representative honours: Yorkshire, Great Britain.

Impact: A world-record signing, Schofield carried Leeds through the late 1980s and early 90s, has a national profile and was the most naturally gifted player of his generation.