TOMORROW’S LADBROKES Challenge Cup quarter-final between Leeds Rhinos and Leigh Centurions will inevitably revive memories of the clubs’ Wembley meeting 47 years ago.
Alex Murphy, many good judges’ choice of the most gifted British player of all time, inspired Leigh to what was one of the biggest upsets the competition has ever seen.
Star-studded Leeds were huge favourites to win the 1971 Cup final, but were embarrassed by a Leigh team who produced a near-perfect 80-minute performance.
The game is best remembered for an incident in the second half when Leeds’ Syd Hynes became the first player to be sent off in a Cup final at Wembley.
Referee Billy Thompson dismissed the Leeds centre for allegedly butting Murphy. Leigh’s player-coach was carried off on a stretcher and there are Leeds fans who, to this day, swear he sat up and winked at them as he departed the field.
Murphy returned soon afterwards and was fit enough to lift the Cup when the final whistle blew to confirm Leigh’s 24-7 triumph.
It is hypocritical to condemn them [referees] for their mistakes while also trying to pull the wool over their eyes.Peter Smith
Hynes has always protested his innocence, while Murphy claims he didn’t wake up until arriving in the stadium changing rooms.
In an interview for the Rugby Leaguer and League Express newspaper this week, Leigh’s hooker on the day, Kevin Ashcroft, was asked about the incident. He recalled: “Hynes never touched him. Murph did his John Wayne act and deserved two Oscars for it. I told him not to get up and said that Syd had been sent off. So Murphy carried on the act and was stretchered off, but he was back on in five minutes. It didn’t win us the game, but by God it helped.”
Leigh led 17-2 at the time, with 15 minutes left and red and white ribbons were already being attached to the trophy, but the incident suggests taking a dive to win a penalty or get an opponent dismissed is nothing new.
It has,however, been in the news this season with several coaches complaining about it being used as a tactic by opposing teams. Last weekend Leeds Rhinos’ Brian McDermott alleged Greg Bird “stayed down to try and get everybody’s attention to what wasn’t a crusher tackle at all,” during Catalans Dragons’ win in Perpignan.
McDermott insisted he will “always tell my players to get up” and that is certainly what happened when young full-back Jack Walker was tackled high by Catalans’ Jodie Broughton. It wasn’t a vicious challenge and wouldn’t normally have deserved anything more than a penalty, but as a foul that prevented a try, it should have been punished with a yellow card.
However, rather than hitting the deck and staying there, Walker tried to continue his run and that may be why referee James Child decided against sin-binning the Catalans winger. That was a case of honesty making the referee’s job more complicated. It may not be the most pressing issue and there is no real culture in rugby league of faking injuries – exactly the opposite in fact – but players trying to ‘milk’ penalties makes the game harder to watch
Whether it is a growing trend or simply one that’s increasingly obvious because of more television coverage is open to debate, but it also adds difficulty to what is already a tough job for referees.
The men in the middle – plus those on the touchlines, in-goals and television van – are themselves coming under more scrutiny.
Players and coaches have a right to expect a certain standard from the officials, but it is hypocritical to condemn them for their mistakes while also trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Perhaps going down like a sack of spuds to the lightest touch may be the more successful approach, but the one Walker took is how the game should be played.
Back in 1971, Leigh’s players turned up for the eve-of-final Wembley walkabout in suits and ties, while Leeds were casually dressed. Murphy apparently used that to gee-up his side, claiming it suggested Leeds thought they had the game won.
That won’t be the case tomorrow. Leigh are the form team, though at a lower level and Rhinos know if they don’t play well another – arguably even bigger – upset could be on the cards.