Remembering Dean Bell's 3 Leeds Rhinos careers 40 years on from New Zealand and Wigan Warriors star's debut
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The tough New Zealander made his Leeds debut on November 20, 1983, when he and Ian Wilkinson were the try scorers - and David Creasser kicked two goals - in a 12-6 victory over Hull KR in a JPS Trophy second round tie at Headingley.
That was one of four touchdowns by Bell in the 1983-84 season, when he made 22 appearances as a centre for Leeds, having joined them from Carlisle. He was part of a club-record 18-game unbeaten run under coach Maurice Bamford and played when the Loiners defeated Widnes in the JPS final.
Bell went on to play for Sydney side Easts in 1984 and turned down a better offer from Leeds to join Wigan - because he felt they had more chance of winning trophy and wanted to play under coach Graham Lowe - in 1986.
During 253 games as a player at Wigan, Bell won seven successive Challenge Cup finals, the Championship six times, the JP Trophy and Lancashire Cup on four occasions each and the Premiership twice. He was named Man of Steel, the sport’s top individual accolade, in 1992, a year before winning the Lance Todd Trophy as player of the match at Wembley.
During his final season in Cherry and White he was profiled in the This is Your Life television series, being surprised by presenter Michael Aspel on the pitch at Central Park after a game against Leeds.
After Wigan he became the first captain of Auckland Warriors, in their debut 1995 season, but was back at Headingley a year later, this time as coach. He was originally set for a role as assistant-coach, but stepped up into the main job after Doug Laughton departed.
It wasn’t a happy time for Leeds who were struggling financially as the sport switched from winter to summer seasons. Many of the club’s star names moved on and Bell was left with a poor-quality squad and little money to strengthen the side.
With five games remaining, Leeds were 10th in Super League and in a relegation battle against 11th-placed Paris St Germain and bottom club Workington Town. Bell had retired as a player at the end of 1995, due to the physical battering his body had taken during a long career, but at 34 he made a one-off return when Paris visited Headingley for a relegation four-pointer.
It came 12 years after his previous appearance in blue and amber and made him only the second player-coach in the club’s history, after Syd Hynes. Bell scored a try as Leeds won 34-12 and didn’t play again.
Things improved in 1997 after the club was taken over by chairman Paul Caddick and chief executive Gary Hetherington and the newly-named Rhinos finished fifth in the table, five places up from the previous year.
At the end of that season Bell moved into a new role of head of youth, his third Leeds career, with Graham Murray coming in as first team coach. Rhinos dominated at academy level under Bell who later returned to Wigan to do a similar job there before various backroom roles at New Zealand Warriors.