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Leeds Rhinos Champions of the Super League, that would have sounded nice 3 months ago, following the defeat at Catalan Dragons. Leeds have certainly turned around their form, and come good at the right time this year, and have pulled of a major shock and made history, but like i say 3 months ago, who would have thought it.
The season kicked off at Millennium Stadium, Leeds started the season in indifferent form with a less than convincing 32-28 victory against local rivals Bradford Bulls and then took on Hull F.C. at the KC Stadium, winning the match 32-18, thanks to a promising performance from rising star Ben Jones Bishop, scoring one of the tries of the season. Leeds's season then took a u turn with a home loss against Brian McDermott's old side Harlequins; this proved a blow for Leeds when they lost the following week to Warrington at the Halliwell Jones losing 40-24. Leeds had 4 points from a maximum 8 from the opening four games, and for a team that were aiming for a top 4 finish, this wasn't good enough, but the team re claimed their form picking up a convincing win against Salford.
Leeds's form continued to stutter, in the next 5 games Leeds Won 1 Drew 1 and Lost 3, the best performance was against Wigan Warriors, the current champions (at the time of the game) drawing 22-22, however this game was important as it highlighted some key points for Leeds, they had the ability to challenge top teams again, however they lost a 22-4 lead, so this highlighted that defence late on in the game was a key area of concern, and would continue to be a key area of concern late on into the season. Following the embarrassing loss to Huddersfield Giants at Headingly, Leeds really stepped up a gear, going on a six game winning streak, which included two Challenge Cup wins and four Super League victories. Leeds still were unable to beat one of the top 4 teams, losing out to St Helens and Warrington Wolves convincingly, in the mean time securing a conformable victory against Hull K.R.
Half Time Report
This highlighted a key area of concern for Leeds, their inconsistent form was apparent, yes we could beat the teams lower down the League ladder, however, we just couldn't defeat any of the top 4, and this inconsistent form wouldn't get us to the Play Offs let alone the Grand Final, some positives were the emergence of a whole host of young players, with Zak Hardaker, Brad Singleton and George Elliott making their debuts for the club, but injuries, especially in the front row were causing selection problems for head coach Brian McDermott.
The second half of the season stumbled into existence, with a 12-7 victory over the Crusaders at the Racecourse Ground. Then saw a drop in form which saw Leeds lose 3 games out of 3, including embarrassing loses to Bradford Bulls and Catalan Dragons, but a tight game at the DW Stadium against Wigan saw some light at the end of the tunnel, again showing that we can compete with the "Champions" but just not having the ability to beat them was still a problem. Now our season could properly kick start, so much so that we would reach two finals, winning one of them.
Hull were the visitors for Headingly, and thanks to a convincing performance from the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Leeds ran out 20-0 winners, Leeds then backed that victory up with a win at the KC the next week in the Challenge Cup, knocking out Hull who beat Leeds in the final back in 2005, we were back on the road to Wembley. Leeds then visited Salford at the Willows, and came out 30-22 winners. Then came one of the games of the season, which would determine whether we would reach Wembley for a second time in a row. Leeds took on Castleford at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster. The game started well thanks to a penalty from captain Kevin Sinfield, however Castleford followed up with a try from would he or wouldn't he Rangi Chase. It took Leeds just short of half an hour to respond, by which point Castleford were ahead 8-2, thanks to a try from Kallum Watkins, Sinfield converted 8-8. The game that went into extra time following Rangi Chases drop goal miss and thanks to a penalty from Ryan McGoldrick because of a high tackle, Leeds took the opportunity for two points, and of course (Sir) Kevin stepped up to the plate and slotted the two points over sending Leeds to Wembley.
Leeds followed this game up with a much more convincing 56-0 victory against Castleford. With one game to go before Wembley, Leeds lost out again to Harlequins in a dress rehearsal down in London for the big match the next weekend; this would prove to be Leeds's last loss of the Super League season.
Then came Wembley, the second time in a row Leeds had reached the Challenge Cup Final, but yet again they were tripped at the last post. Despite an all round great team performance, Leeds just couldn't over come Wigan, and the referee decisions, and lost out 28-18, however this game proved a spark for Leeds, and kicked started their season.
Less than a week after the Wembley defeat, Leeds hammered the Wakefield Wildcats 64-20 at Headingly, then followed this up with a victory at the Galpharm in the final game of the regular season winning 31-24, this did highlight a problem for Leeds which was highlighted earlier on in the season, despite winning this time it could have been more convincing if they had tightened up defence, and this was a key improvement area going into the play offs. Leeds finished 5th.
Leeds were drawn against 8th placed Hull F.C. at Headingly in the last home game of the season, Leeds ran out convincing winners, winning 42-10. Leeds were then drawn against Huddersfield Giants, Leeds edged a victory at 34-28, which could have been more comfortable if they hadn't had a late game slip up which saw Huddersfield bring the game back to within 4 points. Leeds were just 80 minutes away from the big one, however hot favourites, and high flyers Warrington Wolves stood in Leeds's way of more Old Trafford glory.
The Rhinos started quickly with a try courtesy of Carl Ablett on his return from injury, thanks to a kick through from Danny McGuire, Ablett collected and scored, Sinfield converted to make the score 6-0. Leeds continued to apply pressure and had a chance to score again through Danny Buderus, but the ball was stripped from him near to the line. Warrington had a consistent period of pressure on the Rhinos line, and after a fantastic period of defence by the Rhinos, they finally cracked, a chipped kick was knocked back on Joel Monaghan slid over from 5 metres out, Bridge converted to make it 6-6. Warrington were starting to pick up some form, and thanks to try saving tackles from the likes of Zak Hardaker, Leeds managed to keep the Wolves out until just before half time. After an injury to Brett Hodgson, Chris Riley filled in, and it came to good effect, when he stepped inside the Leeds defence to cross near to the posts, Bridge converted to make it 12-6 to the hosts at the break.
Leeds, again had a perfect start to the half courtesy of Ryan Hall, Warrington looked set to score, but a loose pass from Simon Grix was intercepted by winger Ryan Hall, fended off Lee Briers and crossed after a 60 metre run. Sinfield converted to make it 12-12. The Rhinos almost retook the lead a few minutes later when Ryan Hall crossed the line, but the referee judged that Danny McGuire's pass was forward. Warrington were next to cross courtesy of Matt King, they got the ball out wide, and King managed to wriggle out of a four man tackle to dive over the line, Bridge converted from the corner to make it 18-12 to Warrington. Leeds however scored twice in 5 minutes. Rob Burrow ducked and dived under would-be challenged from Warrington, passed inside to Danny McGuire who sped up field, Atkins did well to track him back, but McGuire pulled off a fantastic offload to Ryan Hall who crossed for his second try of the evening. Sinfield converted to make it 18-18. Leeds scored 4 minutes later, when Brent Webb broke down field following some tired Warrington defence, and passed inside for the waiting Rob Burrow who crossed, Sinfield again converted to make the score 24-18 to Leeds. However Warrington still had over 15 minutes to pull this game back, and they did 7 minutes later, Lee Briers stepped inside the Leeds defence, and passed the ball on to Chris Riley who crossed near to the posts, Bridge converted to bring the scores level to 24-24. Warrington had a chance to retake the lead when Matt King almost slid over the line; the video referee decided that he was just short of the line. 74 minutes in, Leeds won a penalty 55 metres from the Warrington goal posts, Sinfield decided to take a punt at the two points, his kick when just under the posts, but Warrington made a hash of catching the ball and following a mistake from Chris Riley Leeds had the chance to score. Leeds took that chance when Rob Burrow took the ball in, Leeds flipped the ball out wide to Ryan Hall who crossed in the corner, however for the second time Ryan Hall was denied a try, when the video referee called that Rob Burrow fumbled the ball slightly.
Warrington had the next chance to take the lead when Lee Briers it seemed went for a drop goal, but it was a desperate attempt and missed by some distance. Leeds were next to go for the drop goal, it was charged down by Richie Myler. Myler was judged to be offside by the linesman, so Leeds were given a penalty 30 metres out from the posts. Sinfield went for the two points, and kicked it to make it 26-24 to Leeds with 2 minutes to go. Warrington were now desperate, they went for the short kick off, but Captain Fantastic Kevin Sinfield caught the ball for Leeds. There was still one last chance for Warrington to take the ball forward and try and score, they threw the ball out wide, but it went flying out into touch past Joel Monaghan. The hooter went, and after one of the best 80 minutes of rugby, Leeds reached the Grand Final for the 4th time in 5 years. They will face St Helens after they beat Wigan Warriors 26-18.
The Grand Final is always THE occasion in the rugby league calendar whether it be the NRL or the Super League, it is always the game that stands out, and the game that everyone want to reach and yet again Leeds had done so. The game started in tense fashion with 23 minutes without a single point scored, both sides had pressure on each other lines, and the wet conditions were proving tricky, however the Saints opened the scoring thanks to a 23rd minute penalty from Jamie Foster, bringing the score to 2-0. Leeds replied 4 minutes later with a penalty over their own bring the score to 2-2. Usually in a game at old Trafford a score of 2-2 after 27 minutes would be seen as a high scoring game, however in a game of rugby league this was tight and the tension could be felt around the ground, as to who would score that most important first try of the game. Enter, Rob Burrow. With the game tied at 2-2 still after 33 minutes, there could only be one man who could turn a game on its head. Burrow ducked under two players, rounded Wellens and then evaded Roby to cross under the posts with what is arguably the try of the season ,if not one of the best tries ever seen at old Trafford, Sinfield converted to make the score 8-2 at half time.
St Helens came out of the blocks the fastest putting pressure onto Leeds's line, with Leeds have to kick a number of goal line dropouts, however the Leeds defence held out until the 50th minute when Tommy Makinson scored a controversial try, when it looked like Webb had guided the ball out, the referee gave the decision, then following a call from the side-line/video referee, he referred a decision upstairs which showed that Makinson had scored, and the decision was given St Helens way, Foster converted to make it 8-8. Saints were back on the scoreboard with a try from Michael Shenton five minutes later to make it 12-8 following a missed conversion, and despite an injury to Paul Wellens, the Saints were picking up some form. The Saints continued to score with two penalties from Jamie Foster making the score 16-8 after 59 minutes. Leeds had 17 minutes to win the game, could they do it? Of course they can.
Webb replied to Fosters goals 4 minutes later burrowing his way through the line to score, Sinfield converted, 16-14, game on! Leeds drew level four minutes later thanks to a penalty from (Sir) Kevin to make it 16-16. Rob Burrow then proved a hero again for Leeds, breaking through the Saints defence, throwing an outrageous dummy which made Francis Meli try and tackle Ryan Hall instead, then sent Hall in for a try in the corner, Sinfield missed the conversion, with left the score at 20-16 to Leeds.
Then the party really kicked in for Leeds, when it looked like Carl Ablett was going to be piled into touch, but he turned it on it's head, and somehow touched the ball down, before being piled into touch (thanks to some help from Ryan Hall), Sinfield converted 26-16 with 4 minutes to go. The Saints from there on in never looked like getting back into the game, not forming scrums quickly was a sign of fatigue, and a lack of inventive play. The game was in the bag when Gaskell attempted to chip the ball through, it was picked out of the air by Zak Hardaker who had a clear 40 metre run to line, Sinfield converted 32-16. Then the celebration began, against all odds, Leeds had won the Final, and as Sinfield said in his pre trophy lifting speech stating that this game was for all the people that had written Leeds off throughout the season, said by a true legend of the club and the game, and it was true, Leeds had defeated the odds, and pulled off a truly remarkable victory, to not only get to the final from 5th place is something, but to win, well words can't describe how good it feels. Back in July following that loss at the hands of the Catalan Dragons, who would have thought that only a few months later we would have lifted the Super League trophy, this has been a truly remarkable season, one that I will never forget.
We are Super League Champions!
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