End Of An Era As Leeds Bid Farewell To South Stand
On an emotionally fraught evening when Headingley said farewell to 86 years of history, Leeds Rhinos marked the occasion with a victory.
The famous South Stand terrace has been home to Leeds’ most passionate supporters since 1931.
They came in their thousands on Friday night to stand on what they see as sacred ground for the final time before the demolition work gets underway and a new construction is built.
They sang themselves hoarse and backed their team with almost religious zeal after a 16-14 win that was chiselled on a spirited second-half display.
It might be a slight exaggeration to say the backing from the South Stand helped Leeds over the line, but it would not be too far wide of the mark.
After Saints led 8-2 at the break with a well-worked score from full-back Jonny Lomax, the Rhinos dug deep and won it with tries from Ryan Hall and Adam Cuthbertson.
Head coach Brian McDermott said: “There are far more people better qualified than me to talk about the South Stand, but it’s been brilliant.
“The old rusty thing has a charm about it and you couldn’t have written a better script.
“I've never not been proud of my players but I'm extremely proud to be their coach tonight.”
Since winning their first championship in 32 years when defeating Bradford in the 2004 Grand Final, Leeds have grown accustomed to collecting trophies.
The South Stand is universally regarded as their ‘14th man’ and the contribution it has made to Leeds’ success is difficult to gauge.
But consider the impact the famous Spion Kop and Stretford End had on the fortunes of Liverpool and Manchester United respectively and you begin to understand its importance.
In the face of such a frenzied atmosphere, old adversaries St Helens might have been expected to advance cautiously.
Instead, it was Justin Holbrook’s side who asked many of the early questions during a fairly tepid opening 40 minutes.
England duo Lomax and Matty Percival were particularly dangerous when they ventured forward to support the attack.
Plenty of the Rhinos’ former greats were in attendance, not least Kevin Sinfield, who skippered Leeds to all seven of their Grand Final wins and retired after the glorious treble-winning campaign of 2015.
In the 37th minute, the game rose above the earlier mediocrity as St Helens opened the scoring.
The architect was long-serving hooker James Roby, who broke out of dummy half and found second-rower Zeb Taia, whose simple pass sent the supporting Lomax scurrying under the posts from 30 metres out.
Percival added the conversion to make it 8-2 at the interval, during which numerous generations of legendary former Leeds players were paraded in front of the South Stand.
Eight minutes after the break, the Rhinos finally fashioned an attack of note as the ball went through six pairs of hands, culminating in Liam Sutcliffe sending Ryan Hall over in the left corner.
Watkins’ conversion levelled matters up at 8-8, prompting a huge roar from the home stands.
With 16 minutes remaining, Leeds forged ahead when Australian prop Cuthbertson took Joel Moon's pass and barrelled over the line before Danny Richardson replied late on for Saints, only for Leeds to hold on.
The Leeds fans in the South Stand stayed put to salute their heroes long after the final hooter while McDermott’s men returned the applause.