Prior and Leeming following in famous footsteps
Leeds Rhinos stars Matt Prior and Kruise Leeming will continue a proud tradition in the Leeds club when they run out for the Combined Nations All Stars on Friday night at Warrington that stretches back to 1904.
Whilst the Combined Nations All Stars is a new name for a mid-season opponent for the national side, it is not a new concept with the concept going back 117 years old, since England played the OtherNationalities in 1904.
Players have been selected on the basis they could qualify for nations other than England, either through birth or ancestry.
The Other Nationalities team regularly played against England, France and Wales and gave players a chance to play representative Rugby League having moved to the country from overseas.
Brought to Headingley for £1.000 in a blaze of publicity having starred for the 1929-30 Kangaroo tourists, Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch – so called because his elder brother thought that he looked like a chimpanzee when born – vied with Les Adams for the scrum half berth during his five years at Leeds. Busch missed the 1931 Championship final defeat to Swinton as he was ineligible and the Challenge Cup win over the same opponents the following year. He made one appearance for Other Nationalities in the 1933 European Championship.
Arguably, the greatest character ever to play for the club, Arthur Clues, a former Sydney policeman, arrived as a Test player, having appeared in all three games against the touring ‘Indomiatables’ in 1946. That earned him a formidable reputation, somewhat ironically, of taking no prisoners – having been sent off in the Test at the SCG. Magnificent for fostering team spirit, he took on the club’s directors with as much passion and disregard as he did opponents and it was no surprise – but a massive disappointment – when he transferred to neighbours Hunslet. He loved played for the Other Nationalities featuring no less than 14 times for the invitational side throughout his career, winning nine matches including three victories against England.
Although less heralded than Arthur Clues, who he arrived with, Kiwi full back Herbert Errol Cook proved to be just as influential, if not a little more reserved. He first came to prominence at Headingley when performing outstandingly for the New Zealand Army XV against the Northern Services select in November 1945, but returned home in his quest to become an All Black. Just over a year later he was back, the first player to be flown over to sign and made an immediate impact, despite the freezing conditions, not least with his impeccable goal kicking – landed with boots of a different size. He was also adept at the kicking duels between full backs that was a feature of the era with the propensity for long, raking punts down field. In the cup run to Wembley without conceding a point in his first season, his long range penalty that set up victory over Wigan at Central Park went into folklore. Like his Aussie mate, though, his sole winners’ medal was the 1951 Yorkshire League Championship, coupled with two appearances for Other Nationalities, losing to France but defeating Wales in the European Championship that season – although in the latter game he landed only three goals from eight attempts.
It is highly unlikely that Eric Harris‘ try records at Leeds will ever be beaten. Most in a career by over 50; highest in a season (63) and the four consecutive biggest hauls in a single campaign; now joint-most tries in consecutive games (17); and a ratio of a try an appearance, which is simply an exceptional return over a ten year period. Signed from Brisbane Wests, he was originally scheduled to go to Rochdale Hornets until the then Leeds skipper, centre Jeff Moores brought him to Headingley as his wing partner, becoming the main strike weapon of the first great Leeds era during the thirties. Blessed with grace, balance and imperceptible but blistering acceleration, he was crowned the ‘Toowoomba Ghost.’ Like all the greatest exponents, he scored vital tries in major matches and when it mattered the most and was genuinely feared, including two in Challenge Cup finals – the decider in 1932 and at Wembley four years later. He is also best remembered for the sensational sole touchdown in the 1938 Championship semi final at Headingley, against Swinton, which ensured the ‘All Leeds’ decider at Elland Road. Only the advent of the Second World War and with a young family, saw him seek a return home and ended his time at Leeds. He scored two tries for Other Nationalities in his one appearance in 1933 against England at Workington.
One of the unsung heroes as the club sought to rebuild after the Second World War. Brisbane born and raised on the east side of the city, Ted Verrenkemp went to Buranda Boys School and joined Brisbane Souths, making six appearances for Queensland in 1946-47. Linked with selection for the ’48 tour, he came to Headingley and for the next seven seasons covered every back line position. In his first campaign here he failed to register a try however the following season, despite it being a disappointing one for the Loiners, he finished top try scorer with 19, including a hat trick in a big home win over Castleford. Surprisingly let go by Leeds, he spent three more years with Keighley before returning home. He appeared for Other Nationalities in 1952.
Frank O’Rourke was a dashing centre who joined Leeds from Sydney University when the international transfer ban was lifted. Having made 13 appearances for NSW Firsts between 1924-7, scoring four tries and three goals, he arrived with Jeff Moores and took up a place at Leeds University to continue his studies, his powerful midfield play a cornerstone on which the first great Leeds era was built. In his first three seasons he headed the Leeds try scoring list, his high in 1929-30 with 27. He was a three-time winner of the Yorkshire Cup, scoring the only try in the win over Featherstone soon after his arrival, and another in the 1930-31 win against Huddersfield at Thrum Hall. Best remembered for his supreme performance in the 1932 Challenge Cup final against Swinton at Wigan, his defence magnificent and setting up the sealing try for Eric Harris. In the 2-all drawn semi final against Halifax, he kicked his seventh of nine goals for the club and was also twice selected for Other Nationalities.
In the late 1920’s, ‘Dinny’ Campbell was asked by the club to get a play making stand off and he offered the services of ‘the best in Australia’ at the time in the shape of Jeff Moores from Brisbane Wests. He proved to be an outstanding acquisition, scoring three tries in as many days on his arrival to serve notice, moving from pivot to centre in 1929-30 and revolutionising the side with his performances. At the end of his initial contract, he went back home and brought back legendary Eric Harris to play outside him. He was elected skipper despite only being 22 and collected the Yorkshire Cup after Featherstone were beaten at Belle Vue, and could play to any style, uncompromising or flamboyant, the perfect provider for Harris. Another two Yorkshire Cups, a brace of Yorkshire League titles, a Challenge Cup win and three championship final appearances ensured the start of a golden era. He made two appearances for Other Nationalities in 1929 and 1933.
Leeds skipper Joe Thompson made five appearances for Other Nationalities in an interesting parallel to this Friday’s game when he got the chance to take on his Great Britain team mates in the England side. Signed from Cross Keys in 1922, he became one of the first real Headingley superstars in a career that lasted eleven glorious seasons. Second in the club’s all time points scoring lists, he was a remarkably accurate and consistent goalkicker and an outstanding scrummager in the days when that was a definable art.
A magnificent ball handler and a relentless tackler, he was the architect and driving force behind the all conquering Leeds sides of the ‘golden thirties’. The first forward to be selected for three Lions Tours in the 1924, 28 and 32 – a true giant of the game, he made five appearances for Other Nationalities between 1924 and 1933.
A fellow Leeds Rugby League Hall of Fame member, Lewis Jones, also got the chance to play for the Other Nationalities in 1955 as they defeated England and Wales with Jones scoring 13 points for the invitational side in a 33-16 win over England at Central Park with over 18,000 fans in attendance.
‘Wallaby’ Bob McMaster joined Leeds where he was a front row regular for five years. At the same time, he carved out a place in wrestling, his first bout in London in 1949 and went on to become a respected referee in that sport in the 1960s and ‘70s. Leeds came across him when he toured with the Australian RU side in 1947-48 as they sought to bolster their post-War pack. In Bert Cook’s early season absence, he kicked all 13 goals for the club in four games following on from his debut, adding his first try in a narrow defeat at Bramley. His consistent form was such he represented the British Empire against France in 1949. He made six appearances for the Other Nationalities.
The renowned Leeds scouting network hit the mark when persuading Wallabies hooker Ken Kearney to turn professional on being demobbed from the Royal Australian Air Force. By then the Parramatta rake had picked up seven union international caps. He only crossed twice in blue and amber, at home to Hull KR and York, but quickly earned a reputation for winning the ball and uncompromising defence. He played 25 rugby league Tests, touring Britain and France in 1952-53 and again four years later, as well as playing in two World Cups. He played four games for the Other Nationalities between 1949 and 1951.
The invitational team returned to Headingley in 1988 when Great Britain took on a Rest of the World with the side including two Leeds favourites. Prop Sam Backo started the game. The bustling Kangaroo and Queensland prop won a Yorkshire Cup medal with the Loiners in 1988 at Elland Road, his late try against Hull in the semi at Headingley his highlight moment in blue and amber. Became one of only three players, and the only forward, to score a try in each Test of an Ashes series against the ’88 Lions whilst with Canberra, with whom he played the majority of his career, appearing in the 1987 Grand Final. Also crossed three times for Queensland in seven appearances, winning two of the three man of the match awards in their whitewash, also in 1988.
Joining back in the World side was his Leeds team mate Cliff Lyons, who came on off the bench. Destined to be a star from the minute he arrived at Headingley, Narrandera’s finest was box office and in two short spells, cemented himself as one the fondest remembered overseas players. He arrived as an unheralded North Sydney player having initially moved to Cronulla and first came to notice here playing against the 1984 Lions tourists for the Riverina district, at centre. He served notice of his qualities on debut, running in a hat trick in the Yorkshire Cup. He was superb in four consecutive games against Widnes in March ‘86, the last the Challenge Cup quarter final replay here, won 5-0; his drop goal crucial. The semi final at Elland Road against Hull K.R. was also drawn and dispensation sought for him to extend his stay for the Thursday following replay which was lost. In all, his 29 appearances yielded 16 tries and four drop goals.
His second spell at Leeds for the 1988-89 campaign was much awaited and started in sensational style with the Yorkshire Cup triumph in his seventh game back. He was at his imperious best at Elland Road to win the White Rose Trophy. In a total of 24 matches, he posted another eight tries, his final appearance coming in Challenge Cup quarter final defeat at home to Widnes in front of over 26,000 fans.
The select team made a return in 2011 with the Exiles with once again Leeds contributing players. One of the greatest hookers of the modern era, Danny Buderus chose to end his illustrious career with Leeds as much for the experience of playing in a competition he much admired, becoming a South Stand hero and an avid Rhinos fan. Appropriately, his final game was as a winner, gaining a Grand Final ring as St Helens were beaten at Old Trafford in 2011, which came on the back of two Challenge Cup final defeats. In total he made 21 consecutive Origin appearances for NSW, captaining them to the series in 2005, as well as being the inaugural Exiles captain for the win over England in 2011.
The Exiles ran over three years with prop Kylie Leuluai playing in each series. Part of the rugby dynasty, he is the most successful overseas player ever to represent Leeds, winning six Grand Finals – never losing one and gloriously ending his career at the ‘Theatre of Dreams in 2015; two World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups in a magnificent association. He represented New Zealand at U19 level and the Maoris in the 2000 World Cup, and was in the Samoa squad for the 2008 tournament, playing against Tonga and France. He played against England for the Exiles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In 2013, Leuluai was joined by his Leeds team mate Joel Moon. The former Brisbane Bronco and NZ Warrior, was an Australian Schoolboy international who toured the UK in 2005 with the AIS. Making his Broncos debut in 2006, he represented Queensland U19s and, whilst under the tutelage of Wayne Bennett, scored 10 tries in 31 appearances before heading to Auckland. He earned a call up for the Indigenous All-Stars before a move to Salford where he won the first of two Exiles caps. He won four trophies at Leeds, including scoring a try in the 2015, treble-achieving Grand Final.
Tickets for the Combined Nations versus England game are available now from only £20 (adults) and £10 (under 16s) at eticketing.co.uk/rugbyleague. Due to current Covid restrictions a limited allocation of tickets is on sale now for this fixture, which is part of a historic double-header featuring The National Lottery Women’s International between England and Wales.
All Stars kit partner OXEN has worked with former Samoan international Mose Masoe on kit design and £10 from every shirt sold will go direct to the Mose Masoe Foundation, the charity set up following his injury to support to his family. The foundation will also support otherRugby League players who suffer spinal injuries.
Official shirt sponsor is leading roadside assistance and vehicle recovery provider, Green Flag. The All Stars shirt is available to buy now at eliteproports.co.uk