From 2007 to 2009 Leeds Rhinos and St Helens produced what were arguably the glory years when theirs became the most intense rivalry in the Superleague era. From big tackles to specular tries and bad blood, it’s no wonder that this was the hottest ticket in the game back then. Two years have since gone by and this rivalry is arguably a pale shadow of what it once was, as the old enemies set to lock horns for the first time in the Superleague XVI season this Saturday.
I want to start off on the 21st April 2007 when Leeds Rhinos where about to face St Helens after beating a depleted Warrington Wolves 52 - 10 the previous week. Apart from that big win against Warrington, Leeds Rhinos were having an indifferent season, losing narrowly to the like of Hull KR, Catalan Dragons and Brian Nobles Wigan. It seemed that replicating the failures of 2006 was well underway. The 2006 champions St Helens on the other hand were well and truly living up to their name ‘The Entertainers’ by previously racking up scores of 53 - 10 (Catalans Dragons), 48 - 4 (Salford City Reds), 32 - 14 (Wigan Warriors) & 42 - 14 (Hull KR) before facing up to the Rhinos at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric as both sets of fans were rightfully optimistic about beating each other. It was the Saints fans who soaked up the first wave of delightful ecstasy as Steven Tyrer went over for the first try in the corner. That was just inside two minutes and already it was looking that Leeds were going to get a Saintly slaughtering. However eight minutes later Scott Donald cut back inside Wellens to score. Sinfield converted putting a sense of euphoria back into the Rhinos fans after that shaky start. That wellbeing was soon to be replaced with feelings of sensation in the 21st minute as Danny McGuire scored his 100th Super League try in just 114 appearances.
After that is was ascendancy (James Roby try 28mins & Paul Sculthorpe’s conversion) time from Saints and then strike back time (Sinfield penalty 30mins) from Leeds to make the score at 12 - 14 to Leeds. However, the rest of that half belongs to St Helens thanks to Paul Wellens try, Steve Tyrer goal and Sean Long drop goal. Whereas the first half belonged to St Helens, the second half belonged to Leeds as they went in for 24 unanswered points. It was an attacking display that hadn’t been seen at Headingley against a top team in ages and the home fans soaked in every minute of it. 2006 all of the sudden began to fade from the minds of the Headingley faithful.
Friday 6th July was the next time these two set to face each other in 2007. Leeds Rhinos were out of the challenge cup and St Helens were on their way to Wembley. Bradford Bulls mauled Leeds Rhinos 38 - 14 prior to this match, whilst St Helens were sitting comfortably at the top of the table. Leeds were the underdogs again as I made one of my last visits (second to last actually) to Knowsley Road.
By my side were my cousin and two other Loiners around the same age we just happened to bump into on the way here. We was in what is known as the away stand shed and Loz (I think it was) along with a few of his mates bought the ‘90s rave scene’ back from the dead by handing out glow sticks to any (friendly) stranger in the crowd. The revival got into full swing when Kevin SInfield kicked for two points after been awarded a penalty due to saints been offside.
Saints scored some more points, as did Leeds and the score at half time sat at 10 - 8 to the Saints. The second half Leeds Rhinos went on to win the match 22 - 10 to complete what was the hardest of doubles in the league to complete that year. On the way home from Knowsley Road the atmosphere in our coach was absolutely electric. If a turbine could have caught voices in that coach that night, it would have generated energy to last many years.
St Helens finished at the top of the table with only a draw and a superior point’s difference ahead of second placed Leeds Rhinos. St Helens were also the back to back challenge cup champions meaning that everyone was writing off anyone in the play offs. The next time these two took to the field was the 28th September at Knowsley Road. Whoever won this game would be going to Old Trafford and whoever lost would have to try again the week after.
This was my last trip to Knowsley Road and what a pleasure it was. Leeds absolutely stuffed the life out of Saints and I saw Kylie Leuluai put in arguably his most entertaining display for the blue and amber in that match. Even though we lost, this was perhaps the greatest game between Leeds and St Helens out of all the three years that I’m talking about in this week’s Damo Bit. A brutal game where we got to see proper defence instead of the wrestling tactics we put up with these days.
Saints narrowly won this game 10 - 8.
Wigan were the first of the fodder Leeds had to get sorted with before the end of the season and we did just that with a 36 - 6 win at Headingley Carnegie. St Helens were the second fodder we got rid of with a 33 - 6 win at Old Trafford. Embrace the glory in the pictures below!
Rob Burrow tested the Saints defence from early on.
Brent got over for the opener.
Ali salutes the Rhinos masses as he extends the lead.
Danny helps Scotty celebrate his solo try.
Lee brushes Meli aside to score next to the sticks.
The 'beard' gets in on the scoring action...
The boys break out the champagne.
Club President Harry Jepson OBE felt that this was the Rhinos best ever performance in his whole time of seeing them. It’s hard to argue with him!
For Now I’d just like to thank all the sources that have helped me put this together - Pauls match reports, RLPhotos, SL Stats and The Rhinos.
To be continued...