History of Leeds Rugby League Club
How it all began 1864 - 1900
The first record of a rugby club in Leeds dates back to 1864 when HI Jenkinson placed advert in the Leeds Mercury inviting players to meet up at Woodhouse Moor a few days a week from 7 to 8am. That advert attracted over 500 members. From this initial interest several clubs were formed including Leeds St Johns who were to become what we know today as Leeds Rhinos.St Johns, who were formed in 1870, were originally known as the Old "Blue & Ambers," and played on the Cardigan Fields ground. The membership was originally confined to the church classes but was soon expanded. By 1887 St. Johns had reached their first Cup Final, the Yorkshire Cup. The team on that day was JW Hutton, R Walters, W Gray, JH Potter, R Burrell, W Place, J Illingworth, EG Load, JW Moore, J Milner, C Macmillan, G Naylor, JA Storer, B West and J Watmough. The lost out on the day to a strong Wakefield Trinity side but the seed of success had been sown.
Three years later the biggest change in Leeds sport was about to happen. In 1888 leading citizens and sportsmen of Leeds, came up with a plan to create a premier club for the city and they agreed to purchase Lot 17a at the sale of the Cardigan Estates. They did and Lot 17a became the finest cricket and rugby stadium in the country, to which everybody knows today as Headingley.
Leeds St. Johns played their last season as St. Johns in 1889-90 and their first as the Football Section of the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Co. Ltd. the following season. The Leeds clubs first ever game was against Otley at the old Cardigan Fields ground as Headingley was not ready for the start of the season however a fortnight later the first match on the new ground was against Manningham on September 20 1890. Leeds played in terra cotta and green jerseys won through by four points to nil.
Leeds were one of the breakaway clubs who formed the Northern Union (Rugby Football League) in 1895. It is worth noting that the Northern Union played in accordance to Rugby Union rules for the first two seasons before changing the scoring system in 1897 and then dropping two players in 1906.
Lean Beginnings 1900-1910
The first decade of the new century was one of disappointed for Leeds. The years since the formation of the Northern Union had seen Leeds sign plenty of players but success had eluded them indeed in the 1899-1900 season, the club used more than 50 players with 28 of those making their debut.
The first game of the new century brought victory however against Hull KR at Headingley wining 8-0. The situation looked brighter in 1901 when the Leeds Parish Church team disbanded and put all of their players at Leeds' disposal. Another key moment in 1901 was the formation of the Northern Rugby League, with a number of leading Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs forming their own league. Leeds were not admitted until the following year when they were placed in the second division and quickly gained promotion as runners-up to Keighley. The club has never been out of the top division since then.
But then came 1910 and Leeds finally lived up to their potential. The team finished in sixth place in the league but that was just a warm up for the Challenge Cup campaign. Leeds beat Hull KR, Rochdale, Keighley and then Warrington in a tense semi final, just scraping through 11-10 before meeting Hull in the final. Rain on the morning of the game meant conditions were against flowing rugby. In an incredibly tight game the scores were level at 7-7 with fifteen minutes left however neither team could break the deadlock and the final went to a replay two days later again at Fartown. Leeds made no mistake this time and ran out convincing 26-12 winners after leading 16-0 at half time. The Leeds team that day were: Young, Rowe, Gillie, Goldthorpe, Barron, Ware, Fawcett, Webster, Harrison, Topham, Ward, Jarman, Whitaker.
Continuing the work 1911-1920
The second decade of the century was another of frustration and continual work for Leeds. The club, like so many, lost many players to the Great War and the usual league programme was interrupted during 1914-1918.
1914 did see Leeds make their first Championship Final against the all conquering Huddersfield team. Leeds had beaten Wigan at Central Park in the semi final but found Huddersfield too strong in the final, going down 35-2, a record score at the time. The Leeds team were: Lewis, WH Davies, WA Davies, Campbell, Jenkinson, Jones, Sanders, Chilcott, Carter, Rees, Ward, Webster, Godward.
During this period, Leeds played a number of "guest players" in the Emergency League competition. On 24th March 1917, Leeds reverted back to rugby union to play a one off challenge game against the Royal Navy Depot from Plymouth as a morale booster for the public. This then became a pre-cursor to the following Christmas when two Challenge games were organised between the two sides but this time with one of each code. The Navy won the union game 9-3 on Christmas Eve but proved equally adapt at league recording a 24-3 win on 28th December.
With the return to the full fixture list in 1919, Leeds made it through to the Yorkshire Cup Final only to lose out to Huddersfield again. On a frosty ground at Halifax, Huddersfield romped home by 24-5.
Becoming a force 1921-1930By the 1920s Leeds were starting to emerge as a force in the game. 1921 saw a return to Thrum Hall for the Yorkshire Cup Final and Leeds were not going to be denied this time. They beat Dewsbury 11-3 with the inspirational Jim Bacon scoring two tries. The Leeds team was Roberts, Walmsey, WA Davies, Bacon, WH Davies, Brittain, Brown, Gould, Hardaker, Godwad, Boagey, Pearson, Ward.
The good form was continued in 1923, when Leeds won the Challenge Cup for the second occasion. The famous Busy B's of Buck, Bacon, Binks and Brittain were the toast of the team and Leeds routed Hull in the final at Wakefield by 28-3. The Leeds team was: Walmsley, Buck, Bowen, Bacon, Lyons, Binks, Brittain, Trusler, Jackson, Dixon, Davis, Thompson and Ashton.
However, the early optimism of the decade could not be maintained and it was not until 1928 that Leeds returned to a Final, reaching the Championship Final which went to a replay against Huddersfield after a 2-2 draw in the first match. Huddersfield eventually won the replay 10-0. There was some revenge six months later as Leeds finished the decade with the Yorkshire Cup in the trophy cabinet with none of the opposition scoring a try in the six games leading to victory. A young Australian winger called Eric Harris scored that day and his arrival at the club made sure that the next decade was to become one of the most memorable in the club's history.
The Toowoomba Ghost 1931-1940
September 1930 saw Jeff Moores, the club captain, return from Australia with an unknown Eric Harris. Harris played nine season in total for Leeds scoring 391 tries in 383 games, including 63 tries during the 1935-36 season, a record that remains to this day. In his first season, 1930-31 Leeds reached the Championship Final for the second year running, however a change of opposition, Swinton, did not change the previous outcome as Leeds lost out 14-7 at Wigan.
The defeat against Swinton was avenged in 1932 when Leeds won their third Challenge Cup at Wigan in front of a crowd of 29,000. It was no surprise that Harris scored the games only try, a breathtaking effort down the touchline. The other points that day came from the boot of prop Joe Thompson, the Welsh captain of Leeds in the Final. The team was: Brough, Harris, Moores, O'Rourke, Goulthorpe, Williams, Adams, Lowe, Thompson, R Smith, Cox, Douglas, Glossopp.
The success continued the following year with the Yorkshire Cup re-captured with a resounding win over Wakefield 8-0. The feat was matched in 1934 although it took two replays against Wakefield to finally separate the teams, after 5-5 and 2-2 draw, Leeds eventually won 13-0 at Hunslet.
However, all the previous success was surpassed in 1936 as Leeds travelled to London for their first appearance at the new Empire Stadium at Wembley. Leeds equalled Huddersfield record for Cup wins with their fourth via a 18-2 win over Warrington in a disappointing Final. The team that day were: Brough (c), E Harris, F Harris, Parker, Brogden, Ralph, Williams, Hall, Satterthwaite, Dyer, Jubb, Casewell, Isaac. Leeds also added the Yorkshire Cup that season with Stan Smith scoring the only points with his try securing a 3-0 over York.
On 12th May 1937, Coronation Day, Leeds played an exhibition game against Salford with 12-a-side, with the loose forward being taken out, Leeds won 15-9.
The Golden Thirties were coming to an end now but Leeds were again at the forefront and one of the highlights of the decade came at Elland Road in 1938. Leeds had already secured yet another Yorkshire Cup the previous October against Huddersfield and came into the Championship Play Offs behind City rivals Hunslet. The semi finals went to form and although the final had initially been booked for Wakefield, both Leeds and Hunslet asked for the game to be moved to Elland Road. A crowd of over 54,000 watched the all Leeds Final which Hunslet won 8-2. The Leeds team was: Eaton, E Harris, Williams, Brogden, Smith, Hey, Jenkins, Satterthwaite, Murphy, Prosser, Tattersfield, Dyer, Duffy.
War interrupts again 1941-1950
At the start of the next decade Leeds once again found themselves playing in a war time Emergency League with a number of "guest players" filling the ranks. Leeds reached their fifth Challenge Cup Final in 1941, remarkably winning for the fifth time. 29,000 spectators witnessed the Final at Odsal with Leeds winning 19-2 against Halifax. The team was Eaton, Batten, Evans, Hey, Lawrenson, Morris, Jenkins, Prosser, Murphy, Bennett, Satterthwaite, Pearson, Tattersfield.
The Cup was then retained the following year again against Halifax at Odsal. The Leeds team included some notable guest players. The team was: Brough, Edwards, Risman (both Salford), Hey, Evans, Morris, Jenkins, Prosser, Murphy, Satterthwaite, Gregory (of Warrington), Brown (of Batley), Tattersfield. Leeds won 15-10, Edwards scoring two tries. It is of note that the Leeds fullback Jim Brough was 39 in the Final.
The run in the Cup came to an end in 1943 but only just! In a two-legged Final against Dewsbury, Leeds lost the first leg 16-9 and then recorded a 6-0 win at Headingley, losing the Cup by a single point.
There was a return to the Final in 1947 when Leeds faced their local rivals Bradford Northern back at Wembley after the end of hostilities. Bradford won through by 8-4 in a game that did not live up to expectations. The Leeds team was: Cook, Cornelius, Price, TL Williams, Whitehead, R Williams, Jenkins, Prosser, Murphy, Brereton, Watson, Clues, Owen. Two notable names in that side were Bert Cook, a goal kicking Kiwi, and the legendary Australian second row Arthur Clues who earned a place in Leeds folklore during eight years distinguished service.
Leeds finished the decade with yet another appearance in the Yorkshire Cup Final however the disappointing run continued with a third defeat in a row in Finals. Wakefield won after a replay 7-8 at Odsal.
Golden Boy Arrives 1951-1960Whilst the first half of the 1950's was a barren spell for Leeds it also saw the most important signing in the clubs history. On 6th November 1952 a delegation from Headingley headed off to Gorseinon, Wales and amazed both rugby codes by paying a record £6,000 for the services of Llanelli and Wales Rugby Union star Lewis Jones. Known as the 'Golden Boy', Jones was to become a Leeds legend during his 12 glittering years at Headingley.
Leeds spent the majority of the decade building a dominant team which would bare fruit in the following years. A signal of intent was given when Leeds won the 1957 Challenge Cup final against Barrow at Wembley by 9 points to 7. The team that day was: P Quinn, D Hodgkinson, K McLellan (c), L Jones, G Broughton, J Lendill, J Stevenson, J Anderson, B Prior, W Hopper, B Poole, D Robinson, H Street. During that same season Jones eclipsed the world record for points scored in a season amassing, 496 points.
Leeds won their first Yorkshire Cup since 1937 in 1958 beating Wakefield in the Final at Odsal in a very open affair, eventually winning 24-20.
However, they were fleeting highlights in the decade, although the shrewd work by the Leeds management was nurturing quality young talent to blend with the world class signings that had always been a trademark of Leeds.
The Holy Grail is captured 1961-1970
Lewis Jones' greatest achievement - and probably Leeds' finest hour - came in 1961. For the first time in the club's history the Rugby League Championship finally came to rest at Headingley.
Under the captaincy of the 'Golden Boy', Leeds defeated the powerful Warrington side at Odsal in the Championship Final by 25 points to 10. Lewis Jones gave an inspirational display in a team which included Australian full-back Ken Thornett, tenacious forwards Don Robinson and Jack Fairbank, the free-scoring Springbok Wilf Rosenberg and the former Roundhay RU centre Derek Hallas, who scored two tries. The team that won that historic match was: Thornett, Rosenberg, Hallas, Hattee, Ratcliffe, Jones, Evans, Robinson, Simms, T Whitehead, Fairbank, Goodwin, Shaw.
Following Leeds' first championship victory in their history the club went into temporary decline until the mid-sixties when the club embarked on a comprehensive youth policy, which would take Leeds into the most illustrious spell in their history. Despite reaching the Yorkshire Cup Final in 1961 and 1964, Leeds lost on both occasions to Wakefield9-19 and 18-2 respectively. However, from 1966 to 1975 Leeds won no less than 20 major trophies.
1966 saw Leeds finish the season as League Leaders and Yorkshire League Champions however progress in the Championship playoff was curtailed against Castleford in the 2nd round. But this was just a taster! In 1967-68 the Yorkshire League Champion and League Leaders trophies were joined by the Challenge Cup as Leeds beat Wakefield in the notorious Watersplash Final. A torrential down pour at Wembley ruined the game and the game ebbed and flowed throughout. Leeds extended their lead to 11-7 through a Bev Risman penalty with a minute to go, however straight from the kick off Wakefield winger Hirst kicked ahead and scored next to the posts. Man of the match Don Fox had a simple conversion to win the game but pushed the ball wide and Leeds had secured the win. The team that day was: Risman, A Smith, Hynes, B Watson, Atkinson, Shoebottom, Seabourne, Clark (c), Crosby, K Eyre, Ramsey, A Eyre, Batten. Subs: Langley, M Joyce.
Leeds finished top of the table in four successive seasons, between 1967-70, as well as winning the 1968 Challenge Cup. This momentous period for Leeds would not be possible without the astute leadership of coaches Roy Francis and Dereck 'Rocky' Turner who between them won every honour inthe game.
There was double joy in 1969 when Leeds won their second Championship. The men from Headingley had beaten Castleford in the Yorkshire Cup Final earlier that season at Wakefield before meeting the same team in the Championship Final at Odsal. Leeds were trailing by 3 points in the last five minutes, before John Atkinson scored a try which was converted by Bev Risman to secure the Championship. The team that day: Risman, Cowan, Hynes, B Watson, Atkinson, Shoebottom, Seabourne, Clark, Crosby, K Eyre, M Joyce, Ramsey, Batten. Subs: Langley, Hick.Leeds finished the decade in the Championship Play Off Final again, losing out to St Helens at Odsal. But there was some consolation with the winning of the European Club Championship, beating Perpignan at Headingley, 31-5.
Home grown heroes 1971-1980
The start of the seventies saw Leeds once again at Wembley although this time there was inglorious defeat against Leigh, going down 24-7. The game will always be remembered for the incident that saw the man of the match Syd Hynes sent off following a clash with Alex Murphy, who folklore says winked at Hynes as he was stretchered off. The Seventies will always be remembered for the local players who came through the ranks under Roy Francis and then Hynes who became the club's first player/coach in June 1975.
1972 was the tale of two teams with Leeds and St Helens playing each other in the Challenge Cup and Championship Final. Saints took the honours at Wembley winning 16-13 however it was to be a different story seven days later. The team at Wembley was Holmes, A Smith, Hynes, Dyl, Atkinson, Hardisty, Hepworth, Clawson, Fisher, Ramsey, Haigh, Cookson, Batten. Subs: Langley. The Championship Final was played at Swinton with Leeds having finished as league leaders. The hero that day was Terry Clawson who kicked three goals allied to an Atkinson try in a 9-5 win.
The following year Leeds were unable to retain the Championship, losing out to Dewsbury at Odsal 22-13. Dewsbury had been thrashed earlier in the season in the Yorkshire Cup Final 36-9 and Leeds added the John Player Trophy to the Yorkshire Cup in March beating Salford 12-7 at Fartown. Leeds retained the Yorkshire Cup the following year beating Wakefield 7-2 in the Final.
In 1974 the Champions were decided by the League Leaders and this led to the inauguration of the Premiership which Leeds won at the first attempt against St Helens 26-11 at Wigan.
The Yorkshire Cup had almost become part of the furniture at Leeds by this stage with five successes in eight years and 1975 saw another win over Hull KR at Headingley by 15-11 but after the previous seasons of glory this was a low return. However that was all to change the following year.
Leeds returned to Challenge Cup Final following tragedy in the final league game of the season. Chris Sanderson was stretchered off at Salford only to die shortly afterwards in hospital and the game was abandoned. Leeds then travelled to Wembley 14 days later for the Final.
Syd Hynes had appointed a young ambitious captain in David Ward, and the drop goal specialist led his team with distinction to the Challenge Cup Final in 1977. Leeds were the underdogs against Widnes, who were appearing in their third consecutive Final, kept the score tight trailing by two points at half time. In the second half they held Widnes pointless and raced to a 16-7 win with Steve Pitchford picking up the Lance Todd Trophy. The team that day was: Murrell, A Smith, Hague, Dyl, Atkinson, Holmes, Dick, M Harrison, Ward, Pitchford, Eccles, Cookson, Fearnley. Subs: Dickinson, D Smith.
Few could believe it when Leeds retained their trophy the following year, fewer still when St Helens led by 10 points early in the game. Leeds had had a disappointing season to that point but that all changed at Wembley. Leeds dramatically won the competition 14-12, having trailed 5-12 at half time. John Holmes put the side ahead with a left foot drop goal, before Ward added his second drop goal to seal the victory.
The curtain was brought down on the decade with another victory in the Premiership Final in 1979 against Bradford by 24-2 and this saw the end of the Golden Era of Leeds as a decade of frustration loomed.
The Barren Years 1981-1990
During a six-year spell as Leeds Coach, Syd Hynes won a major trophy every season and his success' would be a hard act to follow and his departure in 1981 signalled an unstable period. Robin Dewhurst, Maurice Bamford, Malcolm Clift, Peter Fox, Bamford again, Malcolm Reilly and David Ward all trying - and failing - to satisfy the hunger for success.
During this period Leeds only managed to win two trophies, the John Player Trophy in 1983 and the Yorkshire Cup in 1988. The club never gave up and they continued to invest in the best players hoping that something would click and Leeds would rule the game once more.
Players included Lee Crooks and Garry Schofield from Hull, both were proven internationals and cost Leeds world record transfer fees.
Overseas players were still influential in Leeds' make-up. Staggeringly, during the 1984-85 season, Leeds had nine imported players on their books but still finished the season empty-handed. The 1980s must be seen as one of the most barren and frustrating periods in the club's history.
Under the leadership of another former Headingley legend, David Ward, Leeds approached the 1990s in optimistic mood, hoping to rekindle the golden years, but unfortunately this wasn't to be.
They came close to winning the championship in 1989-90 when they finished second to the most successful Rugby League side in the modern era . . . Wigan.
A new beginning 1991 - 2000
Leeds were again signing the big name stars and in June 1990 they captured All Black John Gallagher, rated as the finest Rugby Union full-back in world, but he didn't live up to his expectations and drifted out of the game after several seasons.
At the end of the 1990-91 season David Ward was replaced by Doug Laughton who was rated as one of the best coaches of the modern era, having just guided Widnes to back-to-back League and Premiership titles, so Leeds felt they had the man to re-ignite the flame of success.
He began recruiting the best players, which included the signing of Great Britain captain, Ellery Hanley, completely rebuilding the side and relinquishing the services of the old guard under David Ward.
He also set about creating the finest youth policy in the country which the club had passed by since the 1960s and 70s. One thing Laughton never achieved at Leeds was a major trophy, despite reaching four major finals in his four-year spell at Headingley, which included two successive Challenge Cup finals against Wigan in 1994 and 1995. Laughton shocked the Rugby League world - and Leeds - by resigning at the end of the 1994-95 season.
In the pursuit of Wigan, Leeds had over-stretched their resources and when Dean Bell was brought in to replace Laughton, the club was at it's lowest point since the founding of the club. This change in management also signalled the start of a new era for rugby league, not just for Leeds, but for the whole game in this country. The decision was taken to evolve from a hundreds years of winter rugby and to make rugby league a summer sport. The new competition would have full time professionals at every top-flight club and would marketed itself as the game for all the family at the turn of the millennium.
The first Super League season was an arduous one for Bell and his squad. Stretched by injuries and an inexperienced squad, Leeds struggled in the Super League I. The team narrowly avoided relegation and Leeds CF & A Ltd were endanger of going out of business. In November 1996, the company was bought by Paul Caddick along with the founder of Sheffield Eagles, Gary Hetherington, who was installed as Chief Executive.
A new work ethos was installed at the club and the determination to turn the years of frustration into success. As part of that Leeds paid a world record fee for Wales captain Iestyn Harris from Warrington in April 1997. Harris was the heart of the new Leeds team and he would secure his own place in the club's history during his time at the club.
Super League II saw the newly named Rhinos reach the Challenge Cup semi final and they were the closest challengers to Bradford for the title. In that season, they also took part in the World Club Championship with home and away fixtures against the Adelaide Rams and the North Queensland Cowboys.
Dean Bell subsequently took up a role as Head of Youth Development and he was replaced by Australian Graham Murray as Head Coach. Murray became the catalyst for a new regime at Headingley and inspired his charges to the Inaugural Grand Final at Old Trafford.
But 1998 was to be just a taster of what was to come. 1999 saw a return to Wembley for the final Final at the famous stadium. Leeds beat Wigan, St Helens, Widnes and Bradford on their way to the Final where they met London Broncos. The game started badly for Leeds going 10-0 down, before the Rhinos ran riot. Flying winger Leroy Rivett re-wrote the record books scoring four tries in a 52-16 win. The team that day was: Harris, Rivett, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins, Powell, Sheridan, Fleary, Newton, McDermott, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Subs: Jackson, Mathiou, Hay, St Hilaire.
At the end of the season Murray returned to Australia and was replaced by his compatriot Dean Lance. In his first season Leeds reached the Challenge Cup Final and recorded a 13 game winning run during the season. However, a poor run of results at the start of the 2001 season saw Lance leave the club and former player Daryl Powell was appointed First Team Coach.