My favourite match - Leroy Rivett remembers Leeds Rhinos' 1999 Challenge Cup triumph

Dreams do sometimes come true, as Leeds Rhinos’ Leroy Rivett discovered 21 years ago.

Friday, 1st May 2020, 10:17 am
Leroy Rivett scores atr Wembley, watched by London's Martin Offiah. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

The night before the May 1, 1999 Challenge Cup final, Rivett dreamed he would score a hat-trick at Wembley.

The following day, against London Broncos, the winger went one better, grabbing a then-record four tries and the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.

Leeds’ 52-16 triumph is still the highest score in a Cup final, though Rivett’s feat was beaten five years ago by another Leeds winger, Tom Briscoe, who crossed five times in a 50-0 thrashing of Hull KR.

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Delight as Leroy Rivett celebrates one of his four-try haul in the 1999 Challenge Cup final. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Rivett was born in Leicester, but raised in West Yorkshire and played for East Leeds before joining Leeds’ academy. He made his first team debut in 1996 and was selected ahead of veteran Paul Sterling for both the 1998 Grand Final - when Leeds lost to Wigan Warriors - and Wembley the following year.

Leeds had not won the Cup since 1978, but went into the final as favourites. London, though, gave them a shock by racing into an early 10-0 lead, in front of a crowd of more than 73,000.

Rivett scored Leeds’ opening try as they rallied to lead 12-10 at half-time, but Broncos retook the advantage early in the second half.

Their third try made it 16-12, but from then on the afternoon belonged to Rhinos and Rivett as the 22-year-old added three more touchdowns, including a length of the field interception, to finally bring the trophy back to Headingley.

Leroy Rivett and Iestyn Harris show off the Challenge Cup after Rhinos' record-breaking win over London. Picture by Mike Cowling.

Brad Godden, a classy Australian centre, scored Leeds’ other first half try and Barrie McDermott, Marcus St Hilaire, Iestyn Harris - who also kicked eight goals - and Francis Cummins completed the rout.

Now 43 and working in the justice service in Leeds, Rivett recalls that afternoon fondly, though he admitted it is hard to comprehend it being 21 years ago - the same length of times as between the 1978 and 1999 Cup wins.

“It’s half my life ago,” he said. “Some people playing now won’t have been born when I was playing.

“After I played at Wembley I got asked about Steve Pitchford [Leeds’ previous Lance Todd winner, in 1977] and I didn’t have a clue.

“It feels a bit now like the team I played in is confined to the history books, but my memory of it is still quite vivid.”

Rivett identified “team spirit and camaraderie” as what made that Leeds side, coached by the late Graham Murray, so special.

“I can recollect the 80 minutes of the game, but for me the most poignant memory has to be walking out on to the pitch,” he said.

“You are lining up in the tunnel, waiting for the BBC to give you the nod to go out. You just want to be out there, you are fizzing with excitement and as you walk out the stadium just erupts.

“You are overwhelmed with the excitement and the awe, just trying to take it all in. I remember Graham giving us clear advice about not getting caught up in the emotion and not to be looking in the crowd for people you know.

“That advice went out of the window, I was overwhelmed.”

Though Broncos gave Leeds trouble for almost an hour, the final could not have gone better from Rivett’s perspective.

“It is Roy of the Rovers stuff, playing in your first final, at Wembley, as a young kid - playing for your home town,” he said.

“There’s nobody prouder than me of wearing the Rhinos shirt. How the game panned out, scoring the four tries and taking the man of the match and the personal accolades, it is awesome.”

Rivett spent another year at Leeds, his final game being the 2000 Cup final loss to Bradford Bulls in Edinburgh. He scored 30 tries in just 58 appearances for Rhinos, but will always be part of the club’s history.

“As time goes, that seeps in a bit more,” he added. “It is something you can share with your family, your children and your grandchildren.”

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