DFP – Head Script

Leeds Rhinos

2017 Super League Champions

Rhinos hoping to embrace the spirit of 1969

7th October 2017 | 7:32 am

By Phil Daly

Focused before the toughest of battles, the Leeds side destined to make history as the second one to win the coveted Championship title. From left to right, back row: K. Eyre, M. Shoebottom, B. Watson, B. Ramsey, J. Atkinson, M. Clark. Front row: B. Risman, S. Hynes, R. Cowan, B. Seabourne, A. Crosby, R. Batten, G. Joyce.

Leeds take on Castleford in the title decider tonight and it is not the first time that both teams have met to decide who will be Champions with the pair meeting in the 1969 Championship decider at Odsal.

WP – In Article MPU

Leeds take on Castleford in the title decider tonight and it is not the first time that both teams have met to decide who will be Champions with the pair meeting in the 1969 Championship decider at Odsal.

Despite doing a league double over Castleford, as Leeds swept to their third consecutive League Leaders’ Trophy, it was bruising, uncompromising cup ties between the two arch rivals which left the lingering memory as the decade ended. First blood went to the Loiners at the start of the campaign, with a 22-11 success in the final of the Yorkshire Cup at Wakefield.

An over-generous Glassblowers defence had provided John Atkinson and Bernard Watson with easy touchdowns in the first half, Alan Smith and David Hick completing the victory charge as the old trophy resided back at Headingley for the only time in the 1960s.

That loss was joyously avenged, however, as Cas eliminated their fierce rivals from the Challenge Cup at the quarter—final stage ’down t’lane’ in a match which set the tone for the latter Championship decider. Intensely physical to the point of near open warfare, Leeds snatched a one—point lead in the 50th minute courtesy of Barry Seabourne’s long pass and Ray Batten’s magical offload which enabled the linking Bev Risman to cross. With Seabourne taking a fearsome battering it looked as though the Loiners had held on until a try barely eight minutes from time by Trevor Briggs dashed their hopes.

Castleford had gone on to raise the trophy at Wembley the week before the Championship showdown, their confidence apparent as they sought to become the first Yorkshire side to do the double since Huddersfield had achieved the feat fifty—four years before. Leeds’ league form had been outstanding, losing only three of their regular season fixtures, their most miserly return since 1901-02, but their run to the final had been less than convincing.

Oldham put up a spirited fight at Headingley in the first round with hooker Tony Crosby’s try just before the interval providing Leeds with the necessary momentum for an ultimately comfortable 32-12 success. Workington’s robust forwards gave the Loiners pack plenty to think about in the second round but they were eventually powerless to hold some classic finishing from the home three-quarters with Risman, Atkinson and Mick Shoebottom all on the mark. In the semi—final, Colin Dixon’s two excellent long range tries gave Salford justifiable hope of an upset with a six—point lead at the break but the bravery of Seabourne, who defied four dislocated shoulders and numerous trips to the bench for running repairs, and the dexterity of Mick Clark, who carved out tries for Syd Hynes and with fifteen minutes to go for the dynamic Crosby on a thrilling chase, saw Leeds through. Late scores to Ronnie Cowan and Batten eventually inflated the victory margin to 22-12.

The combination of dogged resistance and improvisation needed throughout the three play-off games was to be tested to the limit at Odsal. Talk on the morning of the ultimate clash was about summer rugby, St Helens having proposed a March to November schedule which drew an angry response from Leeds chairman Jack Myerscough. He had written to all the other twenty—nine clubs that day strongly advising them, ‘not to be stampeded into the revolutionary and irrevocable step’.

The heavy rain which fell in the hour before kick off provided an interesting backdrop to the debate for the 28,442 fans in attendance, many of whom huddled under plastic sheeting and newspapers on the terraces as the deluge swept across the vast bowl. Leeds skipper Seabourne declared himself fit to lead the side out despite his problem shoulder which had barely had time to heal and Ken Eyre returned up front, where it was expected the battle would be won and lost, Mick Joyce dropping into the second—row and youngster Phil Cookson making way.

Indiscipline in such a highly charged atmosphere was always likely to be a determining factor and Leeds were the first to profit, Cas hooker Clive Dickinson being caught offside and then Keith Hepworth penalised for feeding at the opening scrum allowing Bev Risman to give the blue and amber fans an early chance to vent their support with a successful 35-yard place kick in only the second minute. Loose—forward Malcolm Reilly, fresh from winning the Lance Todd trophy at Wembley, set Castleford on a roll with his first charge, Dennis Hartley carrying it on before Alan Hardisty dropped an equalising goal, his 100th for the club, from a similar distance out to Risman’s. Ramsey and Shoebottom made good ground for Leeds, Briggs scampering back to make the tackle and Batten looked like he had created the opening try when he burst through on a fine diagonal run but his pass out wide went to ground.

The pressure on the Castleford line was mounting, Hardisty charging down a drop goal attempt from Seabourne, and Tony Thomas losing possession as the ball spun out of his grasp allowing Syd Hynes to gather and provide for Ronnie Cowan to dive over in the corner to make it 5-2. It was the electrifying Scottish winger’s tenth touchdown in eleven games. The lead was short-lived, Dickinson losing and then regaining the ball before pushing his way past four static Leeds defenders close to the line with opposite number Crosby’s last ditch despairing tackle helping him over rather than preventing the score. Mick Redfearn’s conversion gave Cas a two—point lead after only 13 minutes of intense drama, which had the trainers from both sides called upon to make numerous visits to the arena — notably to Hynes and Derek Edwards.

With the increased tension came the inevitable simmering physicality, Mick Clark going off to return with a head guard and Keith Hepworth being carried off, although he was later to re-emerge, raising the already white hot temperature. Ramsey and Dickinson were the next to come to blows as both skippers were called out to receive a warning about their side’s tactics and future conduct from harassed referee Billy Thompson. A penalty conceded by Joyce gave Redfearn another two points and in reply, after Risman had bravely diffused a kick under his own crossbar, Seabourne’s exquisite forty-yard drop goal attempt just bounced back off the post. Interference by Crosby in the tackle saw Redfearn again hit the mark to make it 11-5, but another feeding offence by Hepworth saw Risman claw back the deficit to four points at the interval.

Injuries took their toll in the dressing room casualty station, Cas replacing influential midfield dynamo Reilly who was suffering from concussion after sustaining a series of blows and Leeds losing back line orchestrator Seabourne and stalwart prop Clark as both were forced to give in to their persistent complaints. Another Redfearn penalty hit the post after Ramsey was pulled out for a foul on Brian Lockwood as the vendettas raged, but Hynes relieved the pressure with a timely interception; From the territory gained Risman booted his third goal, the machinations on the pitch spreading to the terraces as five policemen waded into the crowd to quell an outbreak of fighting.

Back on the field, Hardisty worked his characteristic magic, intercepting Joyce’s pass on the Leeds 25 to ghost to the line despite Risman’s despairing chase which at least pushed him over towards the corner flag. Significantly, Redfearn missed the conversion and Leeds went back on the attack in an effort to salvage the spoils, despite Hynes being a virtual passenger with a leg injury. Cas full—back Edwards pulled off a despairing tackle as Shoebottom, filling in at scrum—half, shot clear from Bernard Watson’s superb inside pass, Ramsey keeping the pressure on with a judicious drop goal to make it 14-11. With the Loiners backs seeing more of the ball, they mounted a late, desperate rally but were nearly caught on the counter as Hardisty twice fed the dangerous Thomas only for Cowan to make a despairing try-saving tackle after Redfearn had dragged a difficult penalty attempt wide.

With barely five minutes to go Redfearn’s towering kick just eluded chasing Cas substitute Frank Fox and Shoebottom and Eyre scrambled in cover to give Risman a run on his own quarter—way line. A shimmy and dummy past Hartley and away from Briggs took the unbelievably composed full—back to near half—way but up a seemingly blind alley only for his inch perfect kick to the flank to be perfectly read and then magnificently gathered by Atkinson, who raced clear to touch down and level the scores. Risman’s next application of the boot for the conversion sealed a dramatic win amid scenes of utter jubilation from the Leeds section of the crowd.

There was still time for Hartley to receive his marching orders on the whistle as frustration and venom mounted, the irrepressible and seemingly indestructible Shoebottom the recipient of his ire.

It may not have been a spectacle, more of a dogfight, but that could not detract from the obvious satisfaction in the Headingley camp, Leeds having topped and tailed the decade with the biggest prize after having waited so long for it to arrive in the trophy cabinet.

Leeds: Risman, Cowan, Hynes, Watson, Atkinson, Shoebottom, Seabourne, Clark, Crosby, Eyre, Joyce, Ramsey, Batten. Subs: Langley, Hick.

Castleford: Edwards, Briggs, Howe, Thomas, Lowndes, Hardisty, Hepworth, Hartley, Dickinson, Ward, Redfearn, Lockwood, Reilly. Subs: Bedford, Fox.