Hunslet host Leeds Rhinos at the South Leeds Stadium on Sunday (6 February, 3.00pm) aiming to extend their winning sequence in the traditional Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Trophy match to four games.
The match has, barring potential clashes in the Betfred Challenge Cup, been the only occasion on which the two old rivals have faced each other for a number of years. The Rhinos have been a permanent fixture in Super League since its launch in the mid-90s, while the Parksiders have never featured in the top flight in the summer era – although the south Leeds outfit were controversially denied admission in 1999, despite qualifying on the field of play through beating Dewsbury Rams in the Northern Ford Premiership Grand Final.
It wasn’t always thus. In fact for many years Hunslet were the dominant power in the city. The Athletic News, in its preview of the second round Challenge Cup tie between Hunslet and Leeds due to take place on Saturday 31 March 1909 at Parkside, reflected: “It is instructive to note that since the formation of the Northern Union Hunslet and Leeds have met in 29 league and cup games, and that Hunslet have won 20 games and Leeds seven, the other two having been draws. The Hunslet score in that series of matches amounts to 271 points, and Leeds’ to 160. The testimony to the superiority of Hunslet which these figures convey is unmistakable.”
Hunslet won the tie 15-9, thereby continuing their dominance over the Loiners.
Leeds had been beaten 14-5 at Headingley in the previous season’s first round tie, when the Parksiders were on their way to All Four Cups immortality, and the renowned journalist Flaneur, of the Leeds Mercury, had reported on that occasion: “The eagerly anticipated Northern Union Cup match between Leeds and Hunslet ended in the usual way, the Parksiders, after experiencing rather an anxious hour, finally arising in their might and smiting their local rivals.
“I do not mind admitting that the result was a personal disappointment to me, as it probably was to the majority of the fine crowd of 12,000 people who showed by their presence on a wretched afternoon that there is still a public for Northern Union football in Leeds.”
He continued: “Lest I should be accused of partisanship, I would hasten to add that my desire for a Leeds success was not based on club preference – I have no favourite team in any code of football – it was based on the greatest good for the Northern Union game in the city.
“Though the Hunslet crowd are notoriously fickle, a defeat for the Parksiders could have been borne with equanimity, seeing that Hunslet are already the holders of the Yorkshire Senior Cup and are in the running for the league championship. But with Leeds the case is different. The club have never won a Cup tournament; they have never beaten Hunslet in a Cup-tie; and they have now nothing to play for this season.
“A victory on Saturday would have done the Leeds club and Northern Unionism in the city a world of good, and it was for that reason that I hoped Leeds would, at long last, create a precedent in their Cup matches with their neighbours.
“Then, too, the sportsman has a natural leaning to the underdog and it was this sympathy that caused one, against one’s better judgment, to anticipate a Leeds victory.”
Hunslet’s grip over the Loiners continued until the outbreak of World War One. At the end of the 1913-14 season the Parksiders had prevailed in 26 of the 39 meetings between the teams, with Leeds winning twelve and, according to the Record Keepers’ Club, one (not the two stated by the Athletic News) being drawn.
Twelve months later, Hunslet had emerged victorious in 27 of the 32 derby clashes, and Leeds in fourteen. At that point, though, the balance of power began to shift towards Headingley.
Hunslet’s 13-11 Yorkshire Cup triumph at Headingley on 17 October 1914 turned out, in fact, to be the Parksiders’ last success over Leeds until Boxing Day 1922, when the Loiners’ ten-match winning streak was ended with a 12-5 home verdict at Parkside.
Leeds and Hunslet exchanged tit-for-tat victories in that and the ensuing four campaigns – not always, it has to be said, in line with home advantage – but the Parksiders (who were in something of a slump for much of the Roaring Twenties, despite the presence of the legendary Walter Guerin) were defeated seven times on the trot in the seasons 1926-27 to 1928-29 inclusive.
The Loiners’ 19-3 home league win on 6 April 1928 edged Leeds ahead (32-31) for the first time in meetings between the clubs.
Hunslet, who trailed in `derby’ meetings 35-32 at the end of the 1929-30 season (when the Parksiders were Yorkshire Cup runners up in a harbinger of a change of fortunes south of the city) enjoyed notable success under captain Jack Walkington during the next decade.
The Yorkshire League was won in 1931-32 (although Leeds completed the `double’ over Hunslet that season) and the Challenge Cup in 1934.
The Championship followed in 1938, when Leeds were defeated 8-2 in the final at Elland Road. The Loiners, however, were also a power in the thirties, and at the end of the 1939-40 season the overall ratio stood at 41-47 in Leeds’ favour.
Hunslet and Leeds were exactly on a par from the resumption of regular Rugby League in 1945-6, at the close of World War Two, until the mid-1960s; the post-World War Two record at the end of the 1964-5 season was 21 wins apiece. At the close of that campaign the Parksiders, who had beaten the Loiners 7-5 at the quarter-final stage on their way to the Challenge Cup Final, had come out on top in 65 clashes since the launch of the Northern Union in 1895, and Leeds in 75. The clubs’ relative win ratio at that stage was 46.42 per cent to 53.58 per cent.
The dismantling of Hunslet’s Wembley side, however, paved the way for a period of dominance by Leeds which, bar one or two notable triumphs and, in recent years, a succession of Harry Jepson OBE Memorial victories (which don’t count in official records) has left the Headingley outfit 101-67 to the good in head-to-head clashes. In most seasons, however, there have been no meetings between the clubs, Leeds (dubbed the Rhinos since the mid-90s) having permanently occupied a top tier place controversially denied to Hunslet in 1999.
Swings of fortune (excluding Lazenby Cup or Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Trophy games)
1895 to 1914 68% 32%
1914 to 1930 23% 77%
1930 to 1938 42% 58%
1944 to 1965 50% 50%
1965 to 2000 7% 93%
1895 to 2022 41% 59%