The Leeds team of 2007 to 2009 will go down in Super League history as one of the best.
The foundations were undoubtedly built by Tony Smith, who joined the club after Daryl Powell’s stepped aside in 2004.
Smith led Leeds to their first league title since 1972 that year. It would be ironic that Smith would go onto win league titles in his first and last years as Leeds coach, as 2007 would be his last before being appointed the coach of the newly rebranded England national side.
But despite the known fact Smith would be leaving at the end of the year, the players sent him off to the following year’s World Cup in style.
Leeds finished second in the league behind St Helens. The two clubs had dominated the league all season, and it was fitting that both made it to Old Trafford.
Despite losing to St Helens in the Qualifying Semi Final at Knowsley Road 10-8, Leeds went onto hammer sixth place Wigan 36-6 at Headingley in the Final Eliminator.
Despite losing to Saints two weeks previously, Leeds thrashed Saints in a one-sided second half.
Rob Burrow won the Harry Sunderland trophy as man of the match despite not putting his name on the score sheet.
The sides came out for the second half, and it took Leeds ten minutes for the onslaught to commence. Ali Lauitiiti extended Leeds’ lead before Scott Donald put the game out of reach for Saints two minutes later.
The following year saw Brian McLennan brought in as Leeds’ new coach after the departure of Smith.
But despite a new face at the helm, it was Leeds and St Helens who once again dominated the league leader’s race. Only a draw between St Helens and Wigan on the final day of the regular season separated the two clubs in the league, both winning 21 games a-piece.
St Helens would once again win the Qualifying Semi Final at Knowlsey Road, and once again Leeds had to bat away the challenge of Wigan at Headingley, this time the Rhinos scraped a 18-14 win.
History would go onto repeat itself as St Helens buckled under the pressure of winning a Grand Final against Leeds.
This would be the club’s first back-to-back league title, and the second club to win back-to-back Grand Finals since the play offs inception in 1998.
James Graham put Saints in front after only six minutes, but it was Leeds that went into half time 12-6 up. Tries from Lee Smith and Ryan Hall in the second quarter of the game put the Rhinos ahead, much to the frustration of departing Saints coach Daniel Anderson who was seen venting his anger on the dressing room cameras.
However Matt Gidley’s try three minutes from the restart put the pressure back on Leeds with the scores at 12-all.
But Danny McGuire’s two second half tries won the game for Leeds. Francis Meli couldn’t handle Kevin Sinfield’s high kick, which fell politely into the arms of a waiting McGuire and won the game for Leeds.
In 2009 it was Leeds’ turn to dominate the league. They won the league and had to contend with a new play off format.
The penultimate game of the regular season saw Leeds secure the League Leaders’ Shield against St Helens in a vicious game which the Rhinos won 18-10. James Graham was unhappy with Leeds’ wresting tactics and refused to shake hands with any of his opponents.
The 2008 World Cup squad predominantly consisted of Leeds and St Helens players, who were rumoured not to see eye-to-eye, which led to England’s failure in Australia. This game confirmed the rift between the two sets of players, such was the nature of the game.
Leeds went into the play offs with a win over Hull KR in the Qualifying Play Off. The win as highest placed winners of week one gave them the Club Call. They chose to play eighth placed Catalan over Wigan at Headingly, leaving St Helens to tackle their local rivals at Knowsley Road.
Catalan’s resurrection in the second half wasn’t enough as Leeds triumphed 27-20, while Saints edged past Wigan 14-10.
Kyle Eastmond put St Helens in front at Old Trafford, just as Roby had done 12 months previously. Eastmond went onto score all of St Helens’ points, while Diskin replied for Leeds on the half hour mark.
Smith brought the scores level after Eastmond’s penalty kick cleared the posts. Kevin Sinfield uncharacteristically missed both conversions. The teams went into half time 8-all, but Leeds took the initiative straight from the restart.
Under orders from his coach not to come back from his team’s first attack without a point, Sinfield slotted a 12 metre drop goal. It may have seemed insignificant at the time, but that point proved to be the advantage Leeds needed throughout the second half, and gave Sinfield the Harry Sunderland trophy.
Both teams exchanged two penalties apiece, but the crucial moment came in the 72nd minute. Danny McGuire’s hooking ball found Lee Smith, who after several views on the video for video referee Phil Bentham, scored the try that gave the Rhinos a seven point advantage.
Leeds got the ball back into the Saints half and Rob Burrow kicked a drop goal to put the game out of sight for Saints.