Leeds Rhinos and the unenviable Challenge Cup record they’re aiming to end

Aaron Bower

When Leeds Rhinos host St Helens on Friday night, it won’t just be their poor home record against the Saints in recent seasons that they’re trying to end.

The Rhinos are already on their worst losing run in the competition ever: they have NEVER lost three successive Challenge Cup games before last year’s defeat to Wigan made it three straights exits at the first hurdle.

But they are also aiming to end a run of almost five years without a Challenge Cup victory in front of supporters. Yes, Leeds won the competition in 2020 – but that was inside an empty Wembley Stadium, with every game on the road to that triumph played behind closed doors due to the pandemic.

Richard Agar’s side beat Hull Kingston Rovers, Wigan Warriors and, in the final, Salford Red Devils to claim rugby league’s most famous prize: but you have to travel all the way back to April 2019 for their last victory in the Challenge Cup in front of a crowd.

Leeds have exited the cup in Round Six – the last 16 stage – for the last four editions of the Challenge Cup to be played in front of crowds. Last year, they were narrowly beaten 18-14 by Wigan Warriors at Headingley, in a game that could easily have gone either way.

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In 2022, they were beaten much more comprehensively at home by local rivals Castleford Tigers, with Lee Radford’s side running out 40-16 winners. That game took place just days after Agar stepped down from his role, with Rhinos legend Jamie Jones-Buchanan taking charge for that heavy defeat at Headingley.

Jones-Buchanan is one of three Rhinos coaches to try and fail to win a Challenge Cup game since Leeds last lifted the trophy. Rohan Smith was in charge last season for the defeat to Wigan while in 2021, Agar was the head coach as Leeds were beaten 26-18 by St Helens, again at the last 16 stage of the competition.

2020 saw Leeds go all the way without a single supporter in attendance – and in 2019, the Rhinos were on the end of one of the great modern-day Challenge Cup upsets. Agar had just assumed interim control at Headingley after David Furner’s dismissal as head coach, but he couldn’t prevent Leeds slipping to a 24-22 defeat at local rivals Bradford.

That tie looked destined to head for extra-time when Tom Briscoe scored with minutes remaining at Odsal, but Liam Sutcliffe’s conversion hit the post, allowing the Bulls to hold on for a narrow two-point victory.

In the previous round was Leeds’ last win in front of a crowd in the Challenge Cup – when they ran out comfortable 78-6 winners against Workington Town at Headingley.

That tie took place on April 12, 2019 – meaning it is closing in on five years to the day since Leeds won a cup tie in front of supporters. Lose on Friday night, and they’ll extend their worst run in the competition and ensure that wait for Rhinos fans to witness a cup win in person will close in on six years by this time next year.

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