World-class No 9 Lee Jackson regrets his Leeds Rhinos exit

LEE JACKSON is remembered as one of the greatest hookers of his generation but he does have a few regrets – one of the biggest being his decision not to stay at Leeds Rhinos.

Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 1:09 pm
KEY MAN: Lee Jackson in action for Leeds Rhinos against London Broncos in 1999. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

The Great Britain international was part of the great side under Graham Murray that won the Challenge Cup in 1999.

He had come back from a wonderful three years playing for Newcastle Knights in the ARL, including a famous Grand Final success over Manly Sea Eagles, and was arguably at the height of his game.

After helping Leeds win at Wembley for the first time in 21 years, Jackson also featured heavily as they reached the following season’s finale although, that time, they fell 24-18 against Bradford Bulls at Murrayfield.

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WINNING FEELING: Lee Jackson celebrates winning the 1997 NRL Grand Final with Newcastle Knights. Picture: NRL Photos.

Still, the Hull-born player had established himself firmly as a fans’ favourite in a cracking side that included Iestyn Harris, Daryl Powell, Barrie McDermott and Adrian Morley.

At the end of that season, at the age of 31, Jackson had a decision to make.

He recalled: “I had a good career; I thoroughly enjoyed what I did.

“But I obviously had a couple of regrets. One of them was leaving Leeds.

Leeds Rhinos' Lee Jackson gets away from Castleford's Ian Tonks and Nathan Sykes. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

“That two years I was there was great and I could have had a third-year option.

“But what I was looking for was a bit more stability; Hull offered me a two-year deal and a third-year option.

“What Gary [Hetherington] said was that yes I could have the third year at Rhinos – but there was nothing after that.

“I decided to go back to Hull, my hometown club where I’d started out. But I wish I had taken the Leeds deal as it was probably one of the worst decisions going back to Hull.

“I didn’t envisage it ending up like that at all.”

Jackson, who had become the world’s most expensive No 9 when Hetherington bought him for Sheffield Eagles for £83,000 from Hull in 1993, spent two seasons with the Black and Whites.

But Leeds, of course, were beginning to take shape, ready for their Golden-Generation period, starting with the 2004 Grand Final success. By that point, Jackson had moved on to York where he spent the last three years of his career.

On his brief Rhinos’ spell, which ended with seven tries in 53 games, Wembley was obviously the highlight.

Alongside former Sheffield team-mates Powell, Ryan Sheridan, Andy Hay and Anthony Farrell, as well as his Newcastle colleague Marc Glanville, he helped Leeds thrash London Broncos 52-16 in a record-breaking victory.

It was also the last final before the iconic stadium was redeveloped.

Jackson came on for Terry Newton, the former Great Britain hooker who, tragically, took his own life in 2010.

He said: “Terry was a lovely lad. He was such a highly-strung kid and it did catch up with him in the end, unfortunately. But he was a great player and we got on well. People think I’m kidding when I say this, but I always thought Terry was, overall, better than Keiron Cunningham.

“Keiron was a fantastic hooker in his own right but I did always think Terry was ahead of him. Winning the Challenge Cup was my Rhinos high point and the lowest was losing it the year after at Murrayfield.

“After leaving, Leeds then went on that great run of winning Grand Finals, something I’d always wanted to do. I never got near that afterwards but I’ve been to five clubs and loved every one.”

Jackson, 51, had followed his former Great Britain boss Malcolm Reilly to Newcastle in 1996 and was part of the first Knights side to win a Premiership the following year.

Kangaroos legend Andrew Johns famously helped them defeat Manly with the final play of the match in a dramatic Grand Final. Many people think the hugely decorated scrum-half is the greatest player of all time.

Jackson said: “If I had to have one person in my team, he’d probably be the second.

“The first person I’d put down would be Ellery Hanley. Andrew was unbelievable. The stuff he did. He basically won us that Grand Final in ’97 through his sheer brilliance.

“I don’t think anybody else could have pulled it off because he shouldn’t have played. He had a punctured lung and was only running at 50 per cent.

“But Andrew being Andrew, he was brilliant. Unfortunately, though, off the field, let’s just say we didn’t see eye to eye.

“We had a bit of a fall-out and didn’t really speak afterwards.”

Making 17 Test appearances for Great Britain, mainly under ex-Leeds boss Reilly but also then under Hanley, who finished his illustrious playing career at Headingley, Jackson twice beat Australia.

The first occasion was the famous Wembley win in 1990, something they repeated four years later.

“We did a great job that day in ’90 but unfortunately we didn’t win the series,” he said.

“I still blame myself for the try that saw the Aussies win the second Test. And then we were rubbish in the third Test at Elland Road.

“I’m not sure what it was; as the series went on they got better and better.”

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