We’ve a very special edition of our Throwback Thursday this week; as it is the tenth anniversary to the day of a historic Super League moment.
In the early years of Super League, the Leeds Rhinos had seriously struggled to make a major impact on the upper echelons of the division. They appeared in the very first Grand Final of 1998, but came up short against a Jason Robinson-inspired Wigan side. They would not make Old Trafford again until 2004 – but this time, it turned out to be a much sweeter experience.
They finished top of Super League that season, losing just two games all season in a fantastic showing from Tony Smith’s men. They were a whopping nine points in front of their nearest challengers, which just so happened to be last year’s conquerors of the Super League – Bradford Bulls. In 2003, the Bulls had swept all before them to finish top of the league, as well as going on to win the Grand Final (and the Challenge Cup). A year later though, it was their West Yorkshire neighbours who were dominating the Super League, as the Rhinos blitzed all before them for the majority of the Super League season.
But, despite finishing top of the tree, the Rhinos still had to navigate a tricky play-off series to ensure they ended their 32-year wait for a Premiership. The Bulls actually qualified for the Grand Final at the first attempt – beating Leeds to ensure they had the chance to defend their title at Old Trafford. And, after thumping Wigan 40 points to 12 at Headingley, the Rhinos joined their West Yorkshire rivals in a repeat of the most hotly anticipated derby of the year.
It was one of the most physical and punishing Grand Finals in the history of Super League, and the Rhinos, despite being slight underdogs, actually built up a fairly decent lead in the first half, leading the Bulls by 10 points to 4 at the break. That was done via a Matt Diskin try, and three goals from the boot of the ever-reliable Kevin Sinfield.
However, immediately after the restart, the Bulls reduced the deficit, as centre Shontayne Hape touched down to reduce the gap to just two points. Crucially though, the Bulls missed the attempt at goal – as well as their first attempt after Lesley Vainikolo’s try – to leave Leeds leading 10-8. It would be the last points Bradford scored in the Grand Final, as another try from Leeds secured victory.
It came via Danny McGuire and, with Sinfield again slotting the goal, his fourth of the night, Leeds had a precious eight-point cushion. It would be too much for Bradford to claw back and, despite surviving some nervy moments late on, Tony Smith’s side held on to clinch that elusive Grand Final victory at the second attempt.
Matt Diskin – a man who would finish his career at Bradford – earned the Harry Sunderland Trophy for a superb performance from hooker, capping off one of the most memorable nights in the history of Leeds Rhinos. The Leeds team that claimed glory that night was:
Leeds: Mathers, Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Bai, Sinfield, McGuire, Ward, Diskin, Bailey, McKenna, Lauitiiti, Furner. Subs: Burrow, Poching, McDermott, Jones-Buchanan.
Amazingly, FIVE of the Leeds team that won that evening still play for the Rhinos, further illustrating what a glorious decade it has been for the Rhinos. In sport, it is often muttered that stability and continuity brings sporting clubs with the best chance of success – in the case of Leeds and that first ever Grand Final win 10 years to the day, that is very much the case.
So Leeds fans, what memories do you have of that day? Let us know on social media, and celebrate the tenth anniversary of what was a historic victory!