AS THEY attempt to break three different records simultaneously, Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington says the club’s rivalry with Castleford Tigers is as great as it has ever been.
Super League champions Leeds meet their West Yorkshire derby foes at Elland Road tonight for the first time since beating them in October’s Grand Final.
Rhinos, playing at the home of Leeds United for the second time this season, are hoping to eclipse the competition best crowd of 25,004, set when Wigan Warriors hosted St Helens in 2005.
However, Hetherington wants to see two other records shattered, too, and believes the growing rivalry with last season’s League Leaders will help them do so.
“Our biggest ever home crowd for a Super League tie was 23,035 against Bradford Bulls in 2003,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“We hope to beat that, but also we want to see us beat the record for the last time we played Castleford at Elland Road in the 1988 Yorkshire Cup final.
“That was 22,968 so there’s actually three records we’re aiming for. We’d passed 20,000 ticket sales on Wednesday after a bit of a late surge from both Castleford and Leeds fans.
“There’s Thursday’s sales to add, too, and then we’re hoping for a healthy walk-up crowd, so let’s see.
“Speaking to players from both sides they have said there’s a cup final feel to it all this week with the build-up so they’re excited by the prospect and we know the fans are.
“This is the first time the clubs have met since that Grand Final and, historically, there is a great rivalry between them.
“I was speaking to John Joyner this week, the Castleford captain when Leeds won the Yorkshire Cup in ’88, saying it will be good to see them along on Friday for the 30th anniversary of that.
“But he was telling me how they’d spent 30 years trying to forget about it as they’d gone into that match as favourites after nine straight wins only to see Leeds beat them on day.
“There are similarities with what happened in the Grand Final, Cas going in as favourites after such a terrific season only for Leeds to win.
“But you can go back almost 50 years, too, to the 1969 Championship final when Cas – having just won the Challenge Cup – had the likes of Alan Hardisty, Keith Hepworth and Mal Reilly, but lost out to Leeds.
“Castleford fans have long memories and some bitter memories of previous defeats.
“The rivalry is probably as fierce today as it has ever been and it’s great to see both clubs challenging like this.
“After the Bradford Bulls rivalry of the ’90s and 2000s, we’ve now gone back to this traditional old rivalry with Cas and it’s exciting given the players on show.”
Leeds lifted their eighth Super League title since 2004 when ending an eight-match losing run against the Tigers to triumph at Old Trafford in October.
That was Castleford’s first Grand Final and they have still yet to win a league title.
Rhinos have won four of their opening five games in their title defence while their neighbours have triumphed in three from four, their fluency hampered by two matches being called off due to bad weather.
On that Yorkshire Cup final defeat, 62-year-old Joyner, who will attend tonight, said: “It is still a painful memory.
“We went into the game in great form with a new coach in Darryl van de Velde and we were flying in the league.
“Our old coach Malcolm Reilly had just gone to Leeds and it was a bit strange seeing him in their dugout on the day.
“Leeds pulled clear of us in the second half and were good value for the win. It should be a good game, though, Friday; Cas are playing some great rugby under Daryl Powell and hopefully they can get the win at Elland Road.”
Hero Lyons on ’88: Page 21.