Leeds Rhinos made Wheelchair Rugby League history today (Sunday 19 September), defeating Leyland Warriors in the Betfred Wheelchair Super League Grand Final to clinch a league, Wheelchair Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield treble.
The Rhinos were made to fight all the way by the Warriors as Wheelchair Rugby League made a thrilling debut in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Gillingham’s Medway Park, but a stellar performance from England’s Nathan Collins proved the difference.
Both sides were eager to get off to a fast start and it was Leeds, through England captain Tom Halliwell, who could – and perhaps should – have opened the scoring with a penalty as early as the third minute.
With kicks being traded, it was the Rhinos who broke the deadlock on seven minutes when a cross-field kick from Nathan Collins was picked up by Ewa Clibbens to go over, Collins himself adding the extras.
Within only eight minutes the Rhinos had stretched their lead to 18 points with tries from Collins off a bullet pass from Halliwell and James Simpson who spun his way beneath the posts, and conversions from Collins.
Leyland Warriors, however, were not out of the contest and started a first half comeback through Roberts who scored a hat-trick inside 10 minutes to underline the underdogs’ determination. Roberts converted all three of his tries and with four minutes to play in the first half the score were level.
But the Rhinos weathered the storm, and it was Simpson who found himself on the end of a fine move involving two of his England teammates to touch down in the corner and restore Leeds’ advantage.
The second half continued as the first at breakneck speed and it was Leyland who were to strike first, on 44 minutes, through Heggie. The build up play through the hands was spectacular and when Roberts converted Leyland found themselves ahead by two points.
The Rhinos appeared temporarily – and uncharacteristically – rattled, giving away a series of penalties, but a Warriors error on 52 minutes allowed them, through Jodie Boyd-Ward, to regain some composure with a try converted by that man Collins.
Leeds extended their lead on 56 minutes when Collins went over and extended the lead to 10 points with his own conversion. 10 became 16 just minutes later, when Clibbens crossed following a Collins break.
And on 65 minutes Clibbens claimed his hat-trick, injuring himself in the process but essentially putting the result beyond all doubt with a fabulous try in the corner. Collins missed the conversion, but the Rhinos were now in total control with 12 minutes to play and 18 points to the good.
And the Rhinos still weren’t done, Collins taking Halliwell’s pass to complete a hat-trick of his own on 70 minutes and converting too.
The never-say-die Warriors fought back through Martin Norris and Adam Rigby, reducing the gap to 12 points with four minutes to play, and Rigby went agonisingly close once more as he and Collins raced for the ball on 78 minutes. But Leeds – and Simpson – had the final say of a memorable final with a try that gave them a 52-36 victory.