Tony Smith was in charge at Headingley to mastermind their maiden Super League success in 2004, bringing another trophy three years later before leaving for the Great Britain job.
But last night the Australian returned with his current side who, in defeating his former employers emphatically for a third successive time in less than nine months, ruthlessly ended Leeds’ six-match winning run and strengthened their increasingly impressive hold on pole position.
The West Yorkshire club had seen surviving members of the 1961 Championship-winning side, the first ever to bring the title to Headingley, paraded on the pitch at half-time but those 50th anniversary celebrations were dashed by outstanding Warrington, who inflicted Leeds’s biggest home defeat in 11 years.
There had been a feeling that given the table-toppers had not faced any genuine threat over the last three weeks, scoring a remarkable 254 points and conceding none in matches against Keighley, Castleford and Swinton, they may be caught out by the physicality and intensity of their in-form hosts.
However, it was the exact opposite; the breathless Rhinos simply could not cope with the pace and strength of Warrington who seemed to show more strength in all the confrontations, even affording themselves the rangey winger Matt King as a makeshift second-row.
Leeds, however, were unfortunate to trail just 12-6 at the break after Warrington had gone ahead through Lee Briers – off a clearly forward pass – and the prolific Australian wing Joel Monaghan.
Zak Hardaker was denied by the video referee and Brett Delaney fumbled over the line but it was a different matter during a one-sided second period.
The double Challenge Cup winners were aided by Leeds’ inability to control the ball early on, Danny McGuire, Kylie Leuluai and Ryan Hall all spilling on the second tackle which proved costly.
However, their errors came from an adventurous tactic which – at least once – paid some dividends.
Given Warrington have the league’s tightest defence, new methods of breaking it down have to be tried and Leeds’ idea of looking for the slip pass just before the tackle while coming out of of their own 30 did catch some of their opponents’ larger defenders off guard.
Jay Pitts did just that to unleash Hall, the England winger who stormed out and fed the ever-supporting Carl Ablett.
He was caught but held down. conceding the penalty to set up the position for Danny Buderus, the Australian hooker who showed all his experience to spot a single marker close in, burrowiing through former New South Wales team-mate Brett Hodgson to stretch over.
The 34th-minute try, which Kevin Sinfield converted, was the first time Warrington’s line had been broken in more than four hours of football.
It would not be breached again.
The leaders had used their glut of early possession to build up that 12-0 advantage but such was Leeds’s desperate nature, when they rarely did manage to get to a kick, it was unaccustomed forwards Jamie Peacock and Jamie Jones-Buchanan having to do the act. Hooker Michael Monaghan caused all sorts of problems around the ruck as Leeds were left gasping, England captain Peacock brought off after just 14 minutes having been caught on a couple of occasions by the rapidness of their play.
At 12-6, Leeds, who had surprisingly started with Rob Burrow on the bench after McGuire’s return from injury, needed to score first after the break but Warrington, crucially, beat them to it.
Michael Monaghan crabbed untouched almost 20 metres sideways across the Leeds line enticing defenders before finding a glorious reverse pass for David Solomona to crash over.
Joel Monaghan intercepted just when Buderus threatened to exploit an overlap down the blindside, but Leeds’s hopes were ended in the 57th minute.
They had grown increasingly frustrated with referee James Child’s wild inconsistencies and, when Jones-Buchanan finally lost patience after he failed to award a penalty when the Rhinos forward was prevented from playing the ball, the Dewsbury official handed one instead to the visitors.
It was one of many dubious decisions from a referee who seemed out of his depth in such a high-profile fixture.
Hodgson duly accepted the gift to make it 20-6 before Lee Smith denied both Garreth Carvell and King in the same set only to see his effort in vain as Chris Bridge muscled over out wide.
Soon after, Michael Monaghan earned a well-deserved try as he finished off another break from Carvell before King and Briers completed the rout with late tries, Hodgson ending with seven goals.
Leeds Rhinos: Smith; Hardaker, Delaney, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Lauitiiti, Jones-Buchanan, Hauraki. Substitutes: Burrow, Bailey, Kirke, Pitts.
Warrington Wolves: Hodgson; J Monaghan, Bridge, Atkins, Williams; Briers, Myler; Morley, M Monaghan, Carvill, King, Westwood, Grix. Substitutes: Solomona, Higham, Wood, Cooper.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).