My favourite match - Leeds Rhinos legend Keith Senior's surprise choice

Great Britain centre Keith Senior played for Leeds Rhinos in four Grand Final wins and was twice a World Club champion, but rates a more low-key occasion as his favourite match.

Saturday, 13th June 2020, 5:45 am

One of the most durable players of the modern era, Senior featured in 560 first team games - only 13 of those as a substitute - from his Sheffield Eagles debut in 1994 until a knee injury ended his career 17 years later.

Not many players are good or fit enough to break the 500 barrier and the match in which Senior reached that milestone, a 43-30 win for Rhinos at Hull on July 4, 2009, is his personal favourite.

“It was one of the only times I’ve ever been really nervous,” Senior - who is now assistant-coach at Sheffield Eagles - recalled.

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Keith Senior scores for Rhinos against Hull in his 500th career game. Picture by James Hardisty.

“I was normally quite relaxed before games, but that was quite a big achievement for me.”

The game was a thriller as Leeds raced into a big early lead, but then had to withstand a spirited Hull fightback.

When captain Kevin Sinfield scored and converted with eight minutes left in the first half, Leeds were 30-6 up and in total command.

But the hosts grabbed a converted try before the interval and put Leeds under huge pressure in the final 40, cutting the gap to just seven points at one stage before full-back Lee Smith touched down to complete Rhinos’ highest score in a game at Hull.

Strong defence from Rhinos' Keith Senior, Ali Lauitiiti and Rob Burrow. Picture by James Hardisty.

“I remember putting Ryan [Hall] over for a try quite early and I scored after that, in a similar situation,” Senior said.

“It was just one of those games that went quite well for me.

“I always enjoyed playing against Hull and I always did quite well against them.

“I remember I played my 300th Leeds game against them a couple of months before and I got man of the match in that and scored two tries.

Kevin Sinfield's converted try put Leeds 30-6 up. Picture by James Hardisty.

“I also set one up for Ryan, quite illegally - I escorted Mark Calderwood off the ball!”

Senior was a Challenge Cup winner for Sheffield in 1998, when they shocked hot favourites Wigan Warriors at Wembley.

He also won 33 Test caps for Great Britain, as well as playing 10 times in an England shirt.

Those achievements remain fond memories, but Senior is more proud of his longevity at the top level of a game he never planned to make a career out of.

He admitted: “You always remember your first final and your first international game.

“Those type of things have sentimental value and they are great achievements, but because I never had dreams of being a professional rugby player - I didn’t plan it, I got an opportunity and took it - playing 500 games was a big thing for me.

“I wasn’t like Kevin Sinfield, at age six throwing a rugby ball about.

“I actually stopped playing for a little bit when the rugby union team I played for disbanded.

“I was working at the time and it wasn’t something I dreamed of doing.

“In rugby union I never really seemed to get anywhere, I’d go for Yorkshire trials and it seemed like my face didn’t fit.

“I was just going to carry on working, so to get to 560 games is a great achievement.”

Another highlight was playing for Great Britain in their 2006 Test victory over Australia in Sydney.

England/Great Britain haven’t beaten the Kangaroos since, but that game is best remembered for Aussie forward Willie Mason’s punch on Stuart Fielden, sparking a fight with Jamie Peacock which Senior joined in.

He remembered: “I just dived on everybody. The stuff that went on in that game wouldn’t happen now.

“Willie Mason should probably have been sent-off about 15 times. That’s something you don’t see anymore, it was just a proper, tough, horrible rugby league game between two rivals - and we won!”

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