Published in Thirteen in 2005
CHALLENGE CUP ROUND 4
FEBRUARY 4 1996
Bearing in mind how dismal Leeds’s 1996 Super League campaign was, maybe this wasn’t such a surprising result in hindsight. On the day itself however, league fans pondered the possibility of the greatest Challenge Cup shock ever as the dual finalists from 1994 and 1995 were being held at 22-22 with only minutes remaining having trailed previously by 12 points.
It had been a week to forget for the Loiners after James Lowes had left the club to join arch rivals Bradford who, unbeknown to league fans at the time, were on the verge of a marvellous era of success. Lowes claimed that Dean Bell saw him only as a utility player whereas Brian Smith had offered him the chance to play in his favoured hooking role at Odsal.
Nonetheless, the tie seemed a formality for Leeds but an early try to Swinton’s fullback Mark Welsby shocked them. Nine minutes later Gavin Price-Jones went over too. Disbelief. Former Great Britain player Les Holliday was having a field day, punishing the Loiners with his kicking game and creating the second try.
Peter Roe had obviously got his men fired up and even when Jim Fallon reduced the gap, Price-Jones scored his second, again created by Holliday, and the Lions held an 18-6 lead which they took into half time.
At the same time, at Wheldon Road, St Helens held a 12 point lead over Castleford and ran out 58-16 winners. A marker was being put down, not just by Paul Newlove with a spectacular hat-trick, but by the Saints who were emerging as the team who would knock Wigan off their perch in the summer era. Leeds had hoped that team would be themselves.
Two minutes into the second half Carl Hall reduced the arrears for the Yorkshiremen. But then it was Swinton’s turn to enjoy a purple patch. Jason Roach had already saved a try with a great defensive effort on the Manly bound Kiwi Craig Innes. Had Innes headed for the tryline with the same conviction that he headed for Brookvale Oval then things might have been different, but the young red headed winger, who would go onto play Super League with Warrington and Castleford, emerged the hero and further confirmed this status with a 53rd minute try set up by Price-Jones who, himself, was on a hat-trick.
Surely second division Swinton, who were about to embark on a league campaign up against Prescot Panthers, Carlisle Border Raiders and South Wales, couldn’t knock Leeds out of the Challenge Cup?
Leeds’s stuttering display was indicative of the struggles that lay ahead for the glamour boys of the game in the new Super League era. They were soon to lose Garry Schofield to Huddersfield as well as Innes to Manly and a number of other stars too but it was a young player by the name of Adrian Morley that started the fightback with just over twenty minutes left. Morley was one of the few impressive Leeds players.
Another Leeds starlet completed the comeback. An individual try, perhaps more down to tired defending than any real skill, from Graham Holroyd presented the try scorer with the chance to level the scores with the kick at goal. He did just that and then cruelly snatched even a money spinning replay away from the Lions with a drop goal three minutes from time. Alan Tait’s late try was merely incidental.
Five years later the two clubs would meet again in the same round. They say lightning never strikes twice and to prove it Leeds won by the astonishing score of 106-10.
Super League teams have rarely lost to lower division opposition in the summer era (although, most famously, it happened a week later when Salford inflicted Wigan’s first Challenge Cup defeat since 1987) so credit to Peter Roe and his players for almost having a second division team beat a collection of such big names.
Swinton: Mark Welsby, Jason Roach, Gavin Price-Jones, Jim Evans, Simon Ashcroft, Willie Wolfgramm, Peter Cannon, Mark Sheals, Carl McCabe, Tony Barrow, Talite Liavaa, Adrian Earner, Les Holliday. Subs: Mike Edwards & Ian Connor
Leeds: Alan Tait, Jim Fallon, Craig Innes, Carl Hall, Francis Cummins, Garry Schofield, Graham Holroyd, Neil Harmon, Mick Shaw, Barrie McDermott, George Mann, Adrian Morley, Mike Forshaw. Subs: Phil Hassan & Harvey Howard