Leeds Rhinos proved unstoppable in the Superleague season, and ANDY ELLIOTT says they ought to be unstoppable for our 2015 Team of the Year vote, too
If sport is about great stories, then look no further than Leeds Rhinos. The narrative of the last weeks of the rugby league season, from August to October, should win a scriptwriters’ award, never mind Team of the Year at this year’s SJA British Sports Awards.
Leeds had strolled to the Challenge Cup – imperiously dismantling Hull KR in a 50-0 Wembley whitewash – but then lost three successive games and began to look like a team who had run out of gas.
Three of their greatest players – Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai – were winding down to the end of their Leeds careers and it looked like Rhinos’ season might be over. To add to their problems, Leuluai was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and considered quitting.
But Leeds and Leuluai, driven on by skipper Sinfield and Peacock, looked upon adversity as a mere irritant and, Rocky-like, willed themselves off the floor to a glorious finale.
A last-second win over Huddersfield in the final game of the Super 8s earned Leeds the League Leaders’ Shield and a home tie against St Helens for the right to reach the Grand Final on October 10.
Trailing most of the game against Saints at Headingley, Leeds again hauled themselves back as Sinfield engineered a Leeds victory in the last minutes to give Rhinos a showdown with Wigan at Old Trafford.
The event’s first capacity crowd witnessed the best of Super League’s 18 Grand Finals as Leeds became the first team since Saints in 2006 to claim Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final trophies in the same year.
Again Leeds left it late in the 36th game of a gruelling campaign to grab the glory. With a quarter of the game remaining, they looked out on their feet. But one of their young stars, Josh Walters, grabbed a try to draw the scores level, fittingly Sinfield converted, and Leeds held on to deliver the most apposite of swansongs for their three amigos.
Now Sinfield, despite a lifetime’s battering at the top of rugby league, is moving to rugby union with Yorkshire Carnegie; Peacock is taking up a coaching role at Hull KR; and New Zealander Leuluai, presumably to the relief of his doctor, is hanging up his boots.
The Observer‘s Aaron Bower summed up the Rhinos’ achievement perfectly: “There are many elements that make up a champion team in sport. Grit, determination and perhaps an element of luck all come into play, but not knowing when you are beaten is potentially the biggest trait of all.”
And as Jonathan Liew in the Telegraph said: “Leeds won because they forgot how to lose.”
- A former sports editor at the Press Association, Andy Elliott is the deputy chair of the Sports Journalists’ Association
- AP McCOY: Jon Ryan on the champion jockey’s claim to your vote
- THE MURRAYS: Barry Newcombe on Britain’s Davis Cup efforts
- Who do you think deserves SJA members’ votes for Sportsman, Sportswoman or Team of the Year? Send your pitch – no more than 400 words – to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “SJA Sports Awards” in the subject field, and we may publish it here
- VOTING IS NOW OPEN FOR SJA MEMBERS for the 2015 SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery. For more information, and to cast your vote, click here
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