Super League has its fair share of major rivalries. We all remember the days when so much hype surrounded the likes of Leeds v Bradford. Even today, the biggest and best marketed games of the season are often the Hull derby and St Helens’ battle with rivals Wigan as we’ve seen this weekend in Rivals Round. But throughout Super League history there has been one or two rivalries which haven’t been given the same recognition as the others whether they’re local derbies or rivalries based on the desire to be the best. With that in mind, here’s the top five underappreciated rivalries in Super League history.
This one was difficult to rank. A huge rivalry and in some ways it has been given apt appreciation especially from 2011-2013. That said, it still firmly lives in the shadow of St Helens-Wigan and probably always will. A rivalry built on locality as well as the desire to achieve success, this rivalry reached its peak when both sides were desperately searching for Super League glory a decade ago. Since then, it’s been compounded by three Grand Finals and the subsequent animosity such a grand stage exudes as one team achieves glory and the other suffers disappointment. A well-documented rivalry but one that still isn’t given the full appreciation it deserves.
When you think of Wakefield’s biggest rivals, its often Castleford who spring to mind. However, there’s significant but often forgotten bad blood between Trinity and the Giants. Two local rivals, the pair have made a habit of stealing each other’s best players. In 2010, Huddersfield poached Danny Brough on their ascent to success whilst Wakefield nicked Kyle Wood as they became a mainstay in the top six a few years ago. That’s only added further fuel to this rivalry and the pair always want to beat each other when it comes to game day.
3. Bradford-St Helens
Super League’s first dominant duo, the pair were always vying for silverware and often met in major finals wrapped up in controversy. Whether it was the Michael Withers knock on, wide to West or the infamous voluntary tackle at the end of the 2002 Grand Final, the pair couldn’t meet in a big game without something grabbing the headlines. They were at each other all season long for every season from 1999 to 2004 as they looked to out-do each other. Bradford’s controversial Grand Final defeats to the Saints in 1999 and 2002 only added more heat to a rivalry which started thanks to a mutual need to be the best but slowly became more than that.
2. Leeds-St Helens
Another rivalry built on the need to be the best, this became the must-watch game from 2007-09. The pair were quite clearly the two best teams in the league at that stage. St Helens had just won the treble and Leeds were on their way to three Grand Final wins in a row. All of them came at the expense of St Helens which simply worsened the hatred the two teams shared. Every game between the pair was a physical encounter which would often descend into brawls. Year on year it simply got more intense climaxing with the 2009 fixture at Headingley during which Keith Senior knocked Jon Wilkin out before James Graham stormed off at the end of the game and wasn’t seen shaking a single hand. Despite all that, today the rivalry is somewhat forgotten about. As Super League’s two most successful sides, it’s obviously considered a big game but it doesn’t receive the same hype as others.
This rivalry started before Super League. Ultimately, it’s a feud which began when Wigan became all-conquering in the 1980s and 1990s leaving Leeds in their shadow and desperately trying to catch up. From there a real hate was born and the pair continued to have feisty affairs with both sides desperate for glory. It was fitting then that they met in the inaugural Grand Final in 1998 which served to exacerbate the rivalry between the two teams. In the decade that followed, a power-shift saw Leeds become the dominant side adding further depth to their feud until it ultimately peaked around 2015 when both sides were on top of their game and battling for silverware. That season saw Leeds claim the treble by snatching the League Leaders’ Shield from Wigan before beating the Warriors at Old Trafford. All of this is grounds for a rivalry which could compete with the likes of the Hull derby and Saints-Wigan and yet it is never considered as such.