The Willows and Wembley! Poles apart in a bitter-sweet world of tears and laughter! Unutterable grief, as we learned of Chris Sanderson's death; unspeakable pride, 8S the Challenge Cup was raised yet again in triumph.
The previous season had bequeathed a thankless legacy: Atkinson, .unlikely to .be fit before November; Hepworth's future uncertain; and Alan Smith contemplating the possibility of following Haigh and Batten into retirement, because of a recurrent knee condition. The immediate problems were all too obvious, the question of recruitment complex, having due regard to the wealth of youthful talent already on the register. In the event, Alan Smith decided to 'soldier on' and the management made just two close-season signings, scrum-half Peter Banner from Featherstone Rovers, and winger David Smith, from Wakefield Trinity, turning out in the Lazenby Cup match, along with Chris Burton, a rangy second row forward from the Colts.
Going, going, very nearly gone! Late bids for the Esso Yorkshire Cup turned the first ten days of the season into a gruelling ordeal. Three points down in the 1st Round .at Odsal, Leeds were seemingly doomed to defeat, until Pitchford put Alan Smith over in injury-time, for Holmes to win the day with a crucial conversion. In the 2nd Round we were cruising to victory at Wheldon Road, only for Castleford to equalise in the dying seconds with a dramatic 7-point penalty try; and the Headingley replay was balanced on a knife-edge at 20-20, with the sands of time fast running out, when Holmes again cheated the hooter of destiny with a drop goal. Three cup-ties: points for, 44; points against, 41; the difference, a place in the Semi-Finals!
Blood pressure was back to normal in September I A Semi-Final win over injury-ravaged Dewsbury was never in doubt, with Holmes orchestrating the attack, and Burton showing great promise as he tagged along behind the belligerent, bulldozing bursts of Pitchford. Performances in the League, too, gave cause for optimism, despite a setback for a weakened team at Workington, where Dick proved himself a courageous deputy for the injured Banner, and Sean Miller made his debut as reserve hooker, following the transfer of Ian Payne to New Hunslet. One other forward was introduced during the month, Peter Harrison making a brief appearance as substitute against Leigh at Headingley.
October brought autumn glory, in the sunshine of almost constant success. A thrilling triumph at Widnes, generated by Alan Smith in a 50-yard dash to set up a try for Dyl, and a home win over mighty St. Helens, with David Smith striking in a double flash of streak lightning, boosted morale in readiness for the Esso Yorkshire Cup Final. Nor, as it turned out, had there been reason to fear the redoubtable Featherstone pack, the young Leeds forwards rising to the occasion in magnificent style; so that, with Dyl scoring two superlative tries in the first twenty minutes, and Hynes working an old move to put Cookson over, Leeds led 11-5 at the interval, and went on to win the Cup for the third time in four years since Headingley became the automatic venue for the Final. For John Holmes, as Captain, a proud moment; for Syd Hynes, his sixth Yorkshire Cup-winner's medal. The Leeds team was: Marshall; Hague, Hynes, Dyl, D. Smith; Holmes, Banner; Dickinson, D. Ward, Pitchford, Eccles, Burton, Cookson. Subs: C. Sanderson, Dickens.
Enthusiasm and determination were boundless, compensating for any inexperience, as young Leeds progressed into the 2nd Round of two more competitions, beating New Hunslet in the Floodlit, and Rochdale Hornets in the John Player, on each occasion at Headingley. In the League, too, exuberant Leeds were fired with the same indomitable spirit, losing only in the closing minutes at Wigan, and ending the month, despite the inclusion of several reserves, with a home win over Rochdale Hornets, Dick kicking five goals. Meanwhile, three players had been transferred: Keith Hepworth, to Hull; Mel Mason, to Barrow; and David Barham, to Batley.
Came the fall, as golden October declined into sombre November! No sooner had we staged a pulsating second-half rally to eliminate Salford from the John Player Competition, than our fortunes slumped alarmingly, a league reverse at Leigh being sandwiched between two defeats at Headingley, with Bruce Burton running in five tries as Castleford put us out of both the Floodlit and the John Player Competitions. Moreover, any hope engendered by an end-of-month victory over Barrow was illusory: confirmation came in triplicate in cheerless December, with further setbacks at St. Helens and Warrington, and against Wakefield Trinity at Headingley.
A New Year's Day victory over Hull K.R., with John Atkinson scoring twice in his first full game for nine months, was but a transitory oasis of relief in a desert of near-despair, as Leeds approached the R.L. Cup Competition with only two wins to show from their previous twel.ve games. The signing of Stan Fearnley from Bradford Northern, and the departures of David Marshall to Hull, and Bob Haigh and Derek Howard to Odsal, seemed only of academic interest. For Leeds, and newly-appointed captain David Ward Wembley was surely beyond the realms of possibility in a never-never land of make-believe.
Truth is ever stranger than fiction! Within a fortnight, after home wins over lowly Batley and Barrow, we were waiting as hopeful.ly as ever for the 3rd. Round draw. Workington Town, away! The assignment was daunting, the response defiant, with the Leeds pack fearlessly storming. the Town citadel, before a vital second-half try by Alan Smith, and a tremendous touchline. goal from Murrell, set the seal on a memorable victory. Incredibly, we were now only eighty minutes away from Wembley! Excruciating they were too for well as Leeds played against St. Helens in the Central Park Semi-Final, with 'Harrison Ward and Pitchford outstanding in the forwards, visions of those famous twin towers were shrouded In the mists of uncertainty, until Atkinson rounded off an SO-yard movement with a. try as glorious as any that have earned a place at Wembley. Could it be true? Only six weeks earlier we had been in the slough of utter despond.
During those six weeks, Willie Oulton, a goal-kicking centre, had been signed from Wakefield Trinity, and three more young players had been blooded: Dave Heron, forward; Tim Wilby and Stuart Johnston, backs. Priorities in the seven outstanding league matches were twofold: to qualify for the Premiership play-off; and to decide between Chris Sansderon and Kevin Dick for the scrum-half vacancy created by Banner's departure to Australia. Cruel fate resolved both issues! In the very last match at The Willows, Chris Sanderson was carried off after a tackle and died shortly afterwards in hospital, whereupon the game was immediately abandoned. Helpless and shocked, we could but stand in stunned silence. Showing great character, the Leeds players responded to the challenge of Wembley, with a superb triumph, as described in the following Press report.
GREAT LEEDS TRIUMPH -16-7
Leeds, the underdogs, gained a great 16-7 win over Widnes in the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Leeds prop, Steve Pitchford, won the Lance Todd Trophy. While 19-year-old serum-half Kevin Dick had a great personal triumph in scoring 10 points.
LEEDS: Murrell; A. Smith, Hague, Dyl, Atkinson; Holmes, Dick; M. Harrison, Ward, Pitchford,Eccles, Cookson, Fearnley. Subs: Dickinson, D. Smith.
WIDNES: Dutton; Wright, Aspey, Eckersley, O'Neill; Hughes, Bowden; Ramsey, Elwell,Mills, Dearden, Adams, Laughton. Subs: Foran, George.
Referee: Mr. J. V. Moss (Manchester)
Leeds, who have already won the trophy more times than any other club, were seeking their ninth triumph. They went into the game very much as underdogs against Widnes, a side making their third successive Wembley appearance and out to regain the trophy they lost last year. An already soft pitch was made more greasy by showers in the hour before the match, suggesting handling errors, at least early on.
Leeds took the first scrum, and Dyl made ground before Fearnley moved well from a Holmes pass, both players having to ride high tackles before Dick landed a neat touchfinder. Leeds heeled again and Dick was fouled by Ramsey. The Leeds scrum-half got up and confidently pushed his side ahead with the resulting 35-yard penalty goal.
The first real break came when Pitchford split the Widnes defence with a thundering run and blustered his way through Dutton's tackle, but he failed to see Dick unmarked inside, and his lobbed pass, which Atkinson gathered to go over, was ruled forward. Laughton made a fine run and Wright moved nicely, as Widnes began to settle ominously well. They were desperately close when Adams cut through and kicked for the line. Widnes came again, with Laughton slipping round the back to give Aspey a chance, but Cookson got across to make a good cover tackle. Then big Mills popped up in the centre to serve Eckersley near the line as Widnes kept up the pressure, but Hague tackled well.
Leeds also covered a bid by Mills, and were taken clear by another tremendous surge from Pitchford, but were caught off-side, for Dutton to level matters with a good 40-yard goal. Ward and Holmes were prominent as they moved the ball around on the Widnes '25', without being able to find an opening, and a clearing penalty took play back to the Leeds '25', where Widnes camped to collect a shock try. There seemed no danger when Aspey was given possession, but Hague mistimed his tackle, diving far too early, and the Widnes man was left clear. In a 25-yard run to the line, Aspey slipped inside Murrell and went behind the posts for Dutton to add the goal.
It was a shattering blow for Leeds, who had looked well in things, and Aspey again found a gap in the defence to set Widnes raiding. Smith did well to hold Elwell's kick almost on the line, with Eckersley breathing down his neck. But now Leeds began to get their handling working, a glorious back pass from Holmes sending Fearnley through, and the loose forward kicked for the line, but Wright beat Dick in the chase and scrambled the ball to safety.
A storming midfield run by Smith kept Leeds deep, but Hughes intercepted and the Headingley men were glad to see the hard-working Ward make a sound tackle; and Ward was on the spot again when Mills and Ramsey tried to barge through. Eccles, Holmes and Ward produced the best Leeds move to date, but Harrison was the next man in the line and Widnes got back to cover. However, Leeds gained reward when Holmes measured a fine kick to the line. The ball seemed to stand up, and Atkinson tore up, to snatch it almost from Wright's grasp and plunge over. Dick's angled kick was just wide.
A smart move behind the scrum by Bowden and Laughton put Leeds under pressure, and they had to cover to prevent Aspey going over. There was then a torrid spell just a couple of yards from the line, in which Mills, Adams and Ramsey were thrown back, before rushes by Harrison and sterling running by Ward and Pitchford helped Leeds to safety.
Dick, showing no signs of Wembley nerves in his first Cup-tie, slipped a neat pass to set Fearnley moving, and the interval came with Leeds regretting just the single defensive lapse.
Half-time: Leeds 5 Widnes 7
Widnes gave their forwards a tilt, but Ward and Eccles brought off sound tackles to snuff out danger, and Aspey was again the man to cause problems, until Atkinson covered well. A penalty for feeding kept Widnes on attack, and again the Leeds defence stood up well to a good deal of pressure, with Murrell, Ward - who seemed to be every tackle - and Dick distinguishing themselves, before Pitchford again produced his party piece, another bundling run. Widnes kept up the pressure, however, and Mills charged up the wing, before Dick halted him with a good diving tackle.
Little had been seen of Leeds this half, but fine play by Holmes and Ward, the latter using a slick dummy, gave Smith a run. He shook off O'Neill, but Bowden covered .well. Now Widnes came again with a good six-man move, and Hague this time distinguished himself with a valuable stop on Dearden.
Pitchford, very much the action man today, again charged up-field to set up the position for the second Leeds try. They took a serum 14 yards out, and Dick and Holmes handled, with the latter sending a glorious reverse pass to Dyl, who outpaced Dutton to score a classic try. Dick, however, missed badly with the reasonable goal shot. Leeds played up to this score, and Cookson made a fine run, before the ball was fanned across the field, with Holmes sending out another inch-perfect pass. Murrell collected and gave to Smith, who was just edged into touch 15 yards out.
The crowd of 82,085 were seeing plenty of football, and Holmes again brought Dyl storming through, for Eccles and Cookson to drive in, before Holmes was just wide with a drop attempt. Then Cookson, Ward and Fearnley drove for the line, before Dyl was held only inches short. It made little difference, for from the play-the-ball Dick sold a huge dummy and dived between the posts. He also added the goal, to give Leeds a precious breathing space at 13-7, as Widnes brought on Foran for Dearden.
Mills, who seemed to have completely lost his cool, was involved in an incident with Pitchford, but Dick hooked the penalty shot wide. Dickinson now came on for Fearnley, who was holding an injured arm, and Leeds set about checking some desperate Widnes attacks. Dickinson promptly drove them back, however, with a lusty run as the game went into the last five minutes. With two minutes left, Cookson charged through and appeared to make the line, but was just rolled back without being able to ground the ball.
Dick landed a drop goal to round off a Leeds victory based on sound defence and tremendous attacking flair. Seconds from the end, Widnes brought on George for Wright, and Leeds, David Smith for Alan Smith, who was given a great ovation as he was hugged by coach Syd Hynes as he left the field. Right on the whistle, Dick added a penalty goal to complete a great personal triumph.
Leeds: 4 gls. 3 tries 16 pts.
Widnes: 2 gls. 1 try. 7 pts.
Four Leeds players were honoured with selection for the World Cup squad to tour Australia: Les Dyl, John Holmes, Steve Pitchford and David Ward.
Syd Hynes had ended a playing career, extending over 13 seasons, with a fine record:
355 appearances, 158 tries, 188 goals.