Every player dreams of winning a Grand Final. Very few realise that dream. Yet there are a select few who do and even fewer who seem to dominate the grandest stage in our sport. The greatest Leeds team of all time was full of such players many of whom went onto become Super League’s most successful players.
We all remember nine-time winner and Super League’s most successful player Jamie Peacock, eight-time winners Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow who also claimed a pair of Harry Sunderland Awards as did seven-time winner Kevin Sinfield. Even Jamie Jones-Buchanan is remembered by all for the success he helped inspire. He played in seven of Leeds’ eight Grand Final wins. However, for some reason one of Leeds’ best big game players always seems to be over-looked.
Carl Ablett finished his career with seven Grand Final wins in seven Grand Final appearances. A Leeds legend for sure, yet many outside the club seem to have forgotten the success he achieved.
A Leeds lad, Ablett no doubt grew-up with ambitions of bringing success to Headingley and his journey with the Rhinos began in 2004 – one of the biggest years in the club’s history. After seeing the likes of McGuire and Burrow leave the academy and achieve great things for the first team, Ablett made his debut in July of 2004 in a 36-all draw with London. Oddly enough it was one of just four games Leeds failed to win in the regular season as they went on to be crowned Champions.
Even odder is the fact Ablett would then join the Broncos the following season on loan. However, he made just five appearances for London. In fact, by the time 2007 rolled around he’d only made 12 senior appearances in total. Only seven of them had come at Leeds and all of them had been from the bench. Now 21, he wasn’t receiving the same attention some of his teammates did when they burst onto the scene.
Despite the fact his wait to start a senior game for the Rhinos continued into 2008, he earned the respect of his coach Tony Smith throughout the season becoming a reliable option off the bench for the title-chasing Rhinos. His year would conclude with a first Grand Final appearance and victory as Leeds vanquished St Helens 33-6.
2008 was a breakout year for Ablett. He made 30 appearances – 19 of which were starts – as Leeds again battled it out for silverware. He established himself as a centre for much of the year in the absence of Clinton Toopi through injury.
Early in the season he claimed his second trophy in the 11-4 World Club Challenge win over Melbourne before starting the 2008 Grand Final win at centre against St Helens as Leeds became back-to-back Champions.
In 2009, Ablett would return to his preferred second-row position thanks to the departure of Gareth Ellis. That said, he did play one game at stand-off that season funnily enough – the final fixture of the regular campaign in which victory over Salford secured the League Leaders’ Shield.
Again, he started the Grand Final win over St Helens becoming a three-time Super League Champion. However, his best years were still ahead of him.
Despite Leeds’ struggles in 2011, Ablett would produce one of his best campaigns again moving to centre following the injury to Keith Senior. Despite playing out of position, Ablett produced some of his finest rugby scoring at Wembley in defeat to Wigan before crossing the whitewash in the Super League semi-final against Warrington to guide Leeds back to Old Trafford where he’d score the clinching try in a 32-16 win over St Helens. Remarkably, his Grand Final glory came whilst he boasted a broken cheekbone.
He was even better in 2012. It was a similar story to 2011, he started at second-row even scoring in the World Club Challenge win over Manly at Headingley. However, a re-jig of the outside backs saw him move to centre once more. He scored a career best 13 tries as the season unfolded and produced a stunning display in the Grand Final win over Warrington. He scored and came up with a pair of an assists to help Leeds to Super League glory once more.
2012 also saw him make his England debut and claim his first of six caps all of which came over the course of the next two seasons. 2014 saw him finally add a Challenge Cup win to his collection and in 2015 he played a vital role in Leeds Rhinos’ treble winning campaign.
His career reached one more high in 2017 as he claimed a seventh Grand Final win. That said, 2018 did see him achieve the personal joy of captaining the Rhinos at times in the absence of skipper Kallum Watkins. Injury curtailed the end of his 2018 season but he promised to come back stronger in 2019.
After missing the opening five games of the season, Ablett was named in the side set to take on Hull FC away. However, he suffered an injury in the warm-up and was withdrawn. It proved to be an injury that would end his career as he would never pull on the blue and amber again.
Unlike most former pros, Ablett pursued a career outside of rugby league following retirement. He started up his own plumbing business called Ablett Plumbing and Heating.