Super League has seen some iconic sides in its 25 years. In this article we compare two of the best to come out of West Yorkshire.
In 2003, Bradford Bulls won their second Super League title, as well as both the Challenge Cup and League Leader’s Shield. This made them the first treble-winners in the Super League era. Brian Noble’s side was littered with world class talent, and there was a feeling throughout 2003 that they would always do just enough to win every major honour they competed in.
Similarly, Brian McDermott’s Leeds side won every trophy available in 2015. Their demolition of Hull Kingston Rovers to win the Challenge Cup Final 50-0 was in stark contrast to the fashion in which they claimed the other two honours. The League Leader’s Shield was clinched by a last second Ryan Hall try during the final game of the season, and the Grand Final was won by a two-point margin against Wigan Warriors. Nevertheless, the team was packed with Super League greats, making for some very difficult selections in places.
1. Zak Hardaker
The 2015 Man of Steel simply has to make this side. Hardaker played over 30 games for Leeds across all competitions during the season and rarely performed below a 7/10. His defensive capabilities, pace and strong kick return were huge assets for the Rhinos. Hardaker makes the team ahead of Bradford captain, Robbie Paul. He was undeniably a fantastic player, but due to the quality of Hardaker in 2015, he misses out.
2. Ryan Hall
Ryan Hall scored a dramatic try to win Leeds the League Leader’s Shield, and could have made it into our side for that alone. But Hall consistently provided his team with tries, scoring 19 in Super League alone. His performances were even enough to edge out fellow Leeds winger, Tom Briscoe who scored a record five tries in the 2015 Challenge Cup Final.
3. Kallum Watkins
Watkins becomes our third Leeds player in the side. He was a regular feature for the Rhinos in 2015, scoring 20 tries in 32 games for the Rhinos, and earning himself a place in the Super League Dream Team. His speed and footwork allowed him to regularly get the better of his opposite number. Watkins scored important tries in both the Challenge Cup and play-off semi-final and was a key component of the side.
4. Leon Pryce
With 22 tries in 2003, Pryce was Bradford’s second top try-scorer. He had a fantastic skill set for a centre, and his unpredictability with ball in hand often left defenders looking foolish. Although Pryce may now be better remembered as a stand-off, he certainly looked like a natural outside back in his early years at Bradford.
5. Lesley Vanikolo
There are few wingers to have played in Super League that have left a legacy comparable to that of the Volcano’s. His pace, aggression and raw strength has seen him become a cult hero. Scoring 26 tries across both competitions in 2003, the Kiwi powerhouse is an easy choice for the side.
6. Danny McGuire
McGuire further proved himself to be a man for the big occasions in the 2015 season, and makes the side as a result. Scoring a brace in the Grand Final as well as grabbing himself four points in the Challenge Cup Final, it’s clear that the stand-off could step up when his side needed him. His 27 Super League try-assists also further bolster his claim to our number 6 spot.
7. Paul Deacon
The Bradford legend makes the team at scrum-half ahead of some very strong competition. The Super League icon Rob Burrow misses out at 7 despite having a fantastic 2015. In my opinion, it was Deacon who offered more of a consistent and reliable dictator of play for his Bradford side. Known for his goalkicking, Deacon was on form in 2003 to claim the title of top point-scorer with 286.
8. Joe Vagana
‘Big Joe’ played 28 Super League games for Bradford in 2003. At well over 100kg, Vagana was a nightmare to play against. He was a fantastic metre maker and would be a fantastic addition to the front row of this side.
9. James Lowes
The 2003 season was the last of James Lowes’ career. Despite being 33, Lowes was able play 30 games for Bradford and consistently performed well. His last professional match was the 2003 Grand Final in which he scored a try as well as playing a near faultless game.
10. Adam Cuthbertson
Cuthbertson showed how a skilful prop can be an excellent asset to a modern side. The offload specialist became the first player to register over 100 offloads in a season (125), shattering the previous record of 90. His ability to get his arm free in the tackle allowed for Leeds to get themselves on the front foot time and time again, and he was a breath of fresh air in the Leeds front row.
11. Jamie Peacock
Peacock is the only player in the side to have played for both teams. He could have made it in at prop for his performances in 2015, but for winning Man of Steel in 2003, it only seems right to have him in at second row. Peacock’s 2003 season epitomises his career: consistent, aggressive and effective. The fact he played in two of Super League’s best ever sides 12 years apart is a testament to his quality.
12. Carl Ablett
Although not exactly the superstar of the Leeds side, Ablett played almost every game for the Rhinos, and did so at a high level. Scoring an impressive 13 tries from second row, the Leeds legend enjoyed arguably the best season of his career in 2015.
13. Kevin Sinfield
It would be unfair not to include Sinfield in this side. Despite being in his mid-30s by 2015, he captained Leeds to major honours in the way he had throughout his career. In his final year at Leeds, his goalkicking quality had shown no sign of waning, as he managed an impressive 105 goals in Super League. As well as this, he racked up an impressive 18 try-assists from loose-forward, showing how much of an all rounder he was.