5: Bradford Bulls 15 – 6 Leeds Rhinos. 2005.
Bradford had been enduring a torrid season, in fact their worst season since the birth of Super League, winning just 10 of their first 20 matches in 2005, suffering nine defeats in the process.
That poor run included a 66-4 home defeat at the hands of St Helens in June. But, after being beaten by Wakefield 44-34 at Belle Vue, they won their last eight league matches to secure third place in the table and home advantage in the first two rounds of the play-offs. The Bulls thundered past London and Hull to reach the semi finals and came through an intense battle with 2005’s table-toppers, St Helens to return to Old Trafford.
That last game was an exhausting affair so Leeds were expected to be fresher for showpiece event after playing just one match in the last four weeks. But that advantage was crushed almost immediately as their energy was drained away by Bradford’s incredible defence, with the Rhinos restricted to a single Danny McGuire try as the Bulls secured their third Super League title.
4: Leeds Rhinos 28 – 16 St. Helens. 2008.
Leeds the second side to retain their Super League crown in 2008 with an impressive victory over St. Helens at a soaked Old Trafford. James Graham opened the scoring for Saints but Leeds, who came into the game as underdogs, held a 12-6 at the break thanks to tries from Lee Smith, who put in his finest performance in a Rhinos shirt, and an incredible score from Ryan Hall. Matt Gidley crosses early in the second half to bring the scores level, but two Danny McGuire tries ensured Ade Gardner’s try was just a consolation.
It was a remarkable turnaround from the Rhinos, winning their third Super League crown, as they had been convincingly beaten by St. Helens 38-10 just two weeks previously.
3: Leeds Rhinos 32 – 16 St. Helens. 2011.
Rob Burrow was the star of the show in 2011 as Leeds became the first side to win the Super League title from outside the top four. Saints looked to be finally on the verge of getting the better of their Grand Final nemesis when they led 16-8 in the second half but the Rhinos staged an unstoppable comeback with late tries from Brent Webb, Ryan Hall, Carl Ablett and Zak Hardaker.
Burrow was the clear Man of the Match, winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy after picking up a remarkable 100% of the votes from the media, as he helped guide his side to a fifth Super League win, matching Saints’ record, and inflicting a fifth straight final defeat on their Lancashire opponents.
2: Leeds Rhinos 16 – 8 Bradford Bulls. 2004.
After current Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell set the wheels in motion for a period of dominance a year earlier, 2004 was finally the season that everything came together for the Rhinos.
Leeds finished at the top of the league by a comfortable margin and overcame West Yorkshire rivals Bradford in a close-run Grand Final at Old Trafford, ending their 32-year wait for a league championship in the process.
Despite finishing top and losing just once at home all season, the Rhinos came into the match as underdogs after their defeat to the Bulls in the first round of the play-offs, but that did not faze the young Leeds side as they led 10-4 at half-time after a try from Man of the Match Matt Diskin which was improved by three kicks from Kevin Sinfield.
Bradford centre Shontayne Hape touched down early in the second half as the Bulls threatened to launch a comeback, but Danny McGuire’s try five minutes from the final hooter extinguished Bradford’s hopes and sealed a historic victory for Leeds who would go on to win five more titles in a truly memorable era for the club.
1: St. Helens 19 – 18 Bradford Bulls. 2002.
In the only finale which has seen the sides separated by a single point, the 2002 Grand Final will be viewed as a classic for many years to come. Bradford fumed at the outcome after referee Russell Smith refused to award a penalty at the death for Saints captain Chris Joynt’s voluntary tackle but this was, and remains, the most compelling Super League Grand Final since the summer era began.
Bradford dominated the opening 20 minutes and should have had more to show for their efforts than just an eight point lead. Saints didn’t look to be in contention until a hopeful kick from Sean Long was allowed to bounce in the Bradford half and Mike Bennett took advantage, then Long touched down before adding his second conversion to give Saints a surprise lead going into half time.
But Bradford wrestled back control of the game as Robbie Paul and current Oldham Roughyeds coach Scott Naylor combined to send Michael Withers over. Then Martin Gleeson replied for Saints, taking advantage of a needless error from Bradford and Long kicked a penalty to level the scores at 18-all with 16 minutes to go, setting up an unforgettable finish.
Five unsuccessful drop goal attempts came and went before Long slotted over with 50 seconds left and, despite the late controversy, they hung on to their lead to land their third Super League win in just four years.