30th September: Rhinos win away to reach Grand Final
Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 30th September
Leeds Rhinos fans will have fond memories of the last day of recent Septembers as they have twice won nailbiting semi-finals, away from home, to reach the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
On the first occasion, in 2005, they raced out to a 19-0 lead at table-topping St Helens, before being pegged back to 19-16 with Man of Steel Jamie Lyon in irresistible form for Saints.
Saints had been badly hit by season-ending injuries to Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe, but still had enough in their armoury to fancy winning a fifth Super League title.
Leeds, having dominated all of 2004 and most of 2005, were in a mini-slump, having lost top spot and having lost the Challenge Cup Final to Hull.
But tries by Danny McGuire and Danny Ward eased their nerves and they took a 12-0 lead to the Knowsley Road sheds after 40 minutes.
The gamebreaking moment came eleven minutes into the second half as Ali Lauitiiti, Leeds’s barnstorming second-row forward, scored one of the great Super League tries – a wonderful 80-metre effort that left Saints with too much to do.
Kevin Sinfield’s drop-goal, crucially, gave the Rhinos a four-score cushion at 19-0. Then, from nowhere, Saints stormed back into the game in the final eleven minutes – a comeback that was inspired by the former Kangaroo centre Lyon.
He scored a great try down the right before producing another blockbusting 40-metre run to set up Ian Hardman for another try.
And he set absolute panic among the Leeds fans when he scored another from James Roby’s pass. With five minutes to play, Saints had the momentum but they couldn’t find the crucial try.
Chev Walker defused Lyon’s kick at the end of Saints’ last attack and the Rhinos were there.
Whilst Leeds were celebrating successive Old Trafford appearances, Saints were left with the daunting prospect of facing the in-form Bradford Bulls, who had beaten Hull 71-0, a week later to make the final themselves.
And do it again!
In 2011, Leeds made Super League history by becoming the first club to make the Grand Final from outside the top three, when they won at Warrington on this day two years ago.
And, predictably, it was golden boy Kevin Sinfield who cemented his position as a Rhinos legend by kicking the winning points with just a couple of minutes remaining. Earlier in the season it had been his penalty that had sent the Rhinos to Wembley in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Castleford.
They got off to a dream start when Carl Ablett pounced on Danny McGuire’s kick to score the opening try, which Sinfield goaled, but Joel Monaghan’s try and Chris Bridge’s conversion squared the ledger.
And six minutes before the break the Wolves shrugged off the disappointment of losing the influential Brett Hodgson to injury by hitting the lead when stand-in fullback Chris Riley beat Ablett to score.
Bridge’s goal gave them a 12-6 interval lead.
The second half was wonderfully entertaining, which was a credit to the players, given what was on the line.
Ryan Hall had the Rhinos level within a minute of the restart, but Matt King’s try four minutes later saw Warrington’s six-point lead restored.
Hall struck again just before the hour, and, when Rob Burrow went over from 40 metres four minutes later, Leeds led for the first time in the second half.
But Riley’s second try and another Bridge conversion locked the scores at 24-all with ten minutes to play.
And that’s when things got really interesting!
King had an effort ruled out by the video referee, before Sinfield was just short with a 50-metre penalty. With four minutes left Hall was denied the winner with a knock-on in the build-up spotted by the video ref.
The big call came with two minutes to play, when Richie Myler was adjudged to be offside in trying to prevent a Sinfield drop-goal and the Leeds captain kicked the winner from the kicking tee instead.
Having spent most of the season being criticised by his own fans as they staggered into fifth place, Leeds coach Brian McDermott stood on the verge of Grand Final glory in his first season in charge.
“The challenge, when things go awry, is to keep in control, and we’ve done that,” he said.
“This team has got integrity, courage and honour. We haven’t once whinged or moaned. I’m so proud for the players. After all the stick they’ve copped this year, we find ourselves in a Grand Final.”
And, unlike in 2005, when they lost to the Bulls, Leeds triumphed on the big stage, beating St Helens in a classic final to secure their fifth title of the summer era.