Leeds Rhinos’ ‘Golden Generation’ 

Leeds Rhinos 'Golden Generation' 

In one of the most dominant periods in the sport, Leeds Rhinos won seven Grand Finals, two League Leaders Shields, and the Challenge Cup between 2004 and 2014.

Last Word on Rugby has decided to recount that unprecedented decade of success. 

Background on Leeds Rhinos ‘golden generation’

The Rhinos came into the 2004 season having yet to win a Grand Final, losing to Wigan Warriors in the inaugural showpiece in 1998. 

A first cup triumph in 20 years had been achieved in 1999, beating London Broncos. 

Despite the lack of league success, they had been a consistent threat at the top end of the table, only finishing lower than fifth in 1996. 

The 2004 season saw Tony Smith take over from Daryl Powell with the new incumbent blooding an exciting crop of academy stars including Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Jones-Buchanan. 

First Super League title

They started like they meant business in 2004, winning 12 of their first 13 league matches and eased to the league title with seven wins in their final eight matches including five successive matches scoring at least 40 points. 

Scoring a remarkable 1037 points in 28 games, they became the first team to record 50 points in a campaign, with a 100 percent home record. 

However, in the qualifying final they suffered a shock 12-26 defeat at Headingley to the Bulls with Shontayne Hape crossing twice and Super League’s top-scorer Lesley Vainikolo grabbing his 37th try. 

The elimination final saw the Rhinos ease to a 40-12 win over Wigan, with a rematch against Bradford at Old Trafford the prize. 

Despite Vainikolo grabbing the first try, Leeds led 10-8 at the break with a Matt Diskin try and two Sinfield goals. Hape hit back but with seven minutes left Danny McGuire dived over to make it 18-6 and seal the Rhinos’ first title since 1972. 

Three-Peat: Regaining their title – 2007

After Grand Final and elimination final defeats to Bradford and Warrington, the Rhinos were looking for a return to Old Trafford in 2007.

After a mixed start, a run of seven wins in nine games showed their quality but they eventually finished second behind St Helens. 

Their reward was a trip to Knowsley Road to face the champions and they narrowly lost 10-8, but they took their second chance by easing past Wigan 33-6 to book a return to Old Trafford. 

Another encounter with the Saints saw them lead 8-6 at half-time, and the title was sealed with two tries in as many minutes from Ali Lauititi and Scott Donald. The win was confirmed with Lee Smith and Jamie Jones-Buchanan crossing late on. 

Consecutive titles – 2008

Only two defeats in the first-half of the campaign, to Wigan and Castleford, saw the Rhinos storm out of the blocks in 2008 but the Saints pipped them by one point. 

Just like the previous season, they made the trip to Knowsley Road to start the play-offs and returned defeated, with a James Roby double ensuring a 38-10 defeat. 

Again, Leeds would host Wigan for a place in the Grand Final and edged home 18-14 with a double from Lee Smith. For the second successive year they would face St Helens in the season finale as they looked to emulate their opponents and win back-to-back titles. 

The Rhinos recovered from James Graham’s early try to hit back through Lee Smith and Ryan Hall to lead 12-6 at the break.

The two sides traded scores early in the second-half through before Super League’s top try-scorer Ade Gardner narrowed the game to 18-16 with 20 minutes left. Minutes later McGuire pounced on a Sinfield kick with the captain continuing his flawless night with the boot to extend the lead to eight points. 

They held on to win 24-16 and make history as the first Rhinos’ side to win consecutive titles. 

Making title history – 2009

Despite a strong start, Leeds had spent the majority of the season chasing down Saints at the top but a 68-0 thrashing of the Celtic Crusaders saw them finally regain top spot with three games left and they held on to seal only their second league leaders title. 

In the play-offs they faced surprise package Hull Kingston Rovers and duly swatted them aside 44-8 with Lee Smith and Ali Lauititi scoring twice each.   

Against Catalans Dragons, Leeds edged to a 27-20 victory with a burst of three tries in four minutes with Ryan Hall scoring twice before Danny McGuire grabbed his second effectively sealing a return to Manchester. 

For a third straight year, the Grand Final would be contested by the Rhinos and Saints and the Knowsley Road outfit led 8-0 early on, Kyle Eastmond scoring all their points. However, the scores would be level at half-time as Matt Diskin and Lee Smith touched down. 

With Saints leading, Sinfield came up with two pivotal moments, firstly giving his side an 11-10 lead before producing a try-saving tackle on Eastmond. 

This proved decisive as Smith, in his final match for the club, slid over late on to seal an 18-10 victory as the Rhinos became the first side to win three successive titles. 

League title won from fifth place – 2011

After losing in the play-offs in 2010, the Rhinos had an inconsistent season, but now coached by Brian McDermott, they finished fifth, a position from where no team had reached the Grand Final.

The Rhinos eased past Hull FC 42-0 in the elimination play-off, setting up a preliminary semi-final at fourth-placed Huddersfield where a Zak Hardaker hat-trick saw them victorious. 

A nerveless kicking display from Kevin Sinfield in the qualifying final at Warrington then remarkably took them to Old Trafford. Yet again they would meet the team from Knowsley Road, coming in as underdogs after two comprehensive defeats in the regular season. 

However, they led at the break after one of the best Grand Final tries from Rob Burrow, ducking under two would-be tacklers to scoot away and score. Tries from Tommy Makinson and Michael Shenton with Jamie Foster penalty from halfway though turned it around, making it 16-8. 

Later, in a 14-minute spell, the Rhinos led with Brent Webb and Ryan Hall crossing. Late scores from Carl Ablett and Hardaker sealed an impressive comeback as Leeds became the first time to win the title from fifth. 

Back-to-back (again) 2011-2012

For a second successive year the Rhinos overcame a mixed start with a run of seven victories in eight matches helped them again finish fifth. 

They breezed past surprise package Wakefield in the elimination play-off which saw them travel to face Catalans Dragons.

A flawless kicking display for Kevin Sinfield saw them edge through to play league leaders Wigan who had finished 10 points ahead in the regular season. 

Holding off a second-half Warriors fightback, the Rhinos booked their return to Old Trafford edging home 13-12 with another nerveless display from Sinfield. 

Warrington, in their first ever Grand Final, struck early through Richie Myler’s try, but the scores were level at the break with Sinfield and Ben-Jones Bishop crossing before Joel Monahgan’s try for the Wire. 

Buoyed by Monahgan’s score, Ryan Atkins gave them the lead when he dived over. 

However, tries from Carl Ablett and Ryan Hall, and another excellent kicking performance from Sinfield, who had recovered from being knocked unconscious, saw the Rhinos run out 26-18 winners and repeat their feat from 2011. 

Challenge Cup victory

In contrast with their league success, Leeds could not get over the line in the cup with heartbreak in the final four times including three consecutive defeats from 2010. 

In 2014, the Rhinos were looking for an improved run after crashing out in the fifth round to Huddersfield the previous year.

They started by thrashing Wakefield before beating St Helens impressively 32-16 and a quarter-final victory over Leigh saw them meet their 2011 and 2012 conquerors Warrington in the last-four. Two tries from Ryan Hall gave the Rhinos a 14-point lead at the break and they survived a Wolves fightback to triumph 24-16.

As they looked to end a run of six consecutive defeats at Wembley, they would face Castleford Tigers in the first all-Yorkshire for 28 years.

The sides traded early scores through Tom Briscoe and Daryl Clark before a 10-minute burst then saw Leeds pull away with Danny McGuire and Ryan Hall scoring. 

Down 16-4 at the interval, Oliver Holmes gave Castleford hope but Hall grabbed his second with 15 minutes left to confirm victory.

Players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Challenge Cup Final between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Tigers coach Daryl Powell, a player for Leeds when they had last claimed the trophy in 1999, could only look on as Kevin Sinfield finally got his hands on the cup, having suffered five defeats as captain. 

The reasons behind Leeds Rhinos success

During these 10 years, the Leeds Rhinos were blessed with an incredible array of talent through their famed academy including cornerstones of the side such as Danny McGuire, Adrian Morley (see main image), Rob Burrow, Kevin Sinfield, and Jamie-Jones Buchanan.

They were supplemented by some outstanding overseas signings like rampaging second-row Ali Lauitiiti, and impressive New Zealand pair Brent Webb and Kylie Leuluai.

Excellent coaching from Tony Smith, Brian McClennan, and Brian McDermott steered the Rhinos through the most successful period in their history and one of most dominant eras in rugby league.


“Main photo credit”