A bit of modern history this month! Having reflected, last month, on 100 years since the breakaway of Hunslet schools from the Leeds association in 1921 – a breakaway which lasted 75 years – it struck me that the newly-named (in 1996) Leeds & Hunslet Schools’ Rugby League is therefore celebrating its silver jubilee in 2021. So how has schools’ Rugby League south of the river fared in those 25 years?

As the 1996-97 season began, there would still be five years of city and county matches before the Rugby Football League “pulled the plug” on representative schoolboy Rugby League. Starting three years earlier, this last era saw the most successful spell for representative rugby in the city since the domination of both the Hunslet and Leeds teams of the 1950s and early-60s. Schools from south of the river produced its fair share of players for the combined Leeds & Hunslet sides: Chev Walker (Clapgate and Merlyn Rees), Carl Ablett and Luke Gale (both Middleton and Rodillian) all achieved international honours in the professional game; whilst George Rayner (Clapgate and Rodillian), Gary Smith (Churwell and Bruntcliffe), Anthony Henderson and Dwayne Barker (both Clapgate and Merlyn Rees), Michael Lyons (Clapgate and Cockburn), David Doherty (Churwell), Scott Murrell (Bruntcliffe), Arron Pratt (Merlyn Rees) and Matthew Fox (Middleton St Philip’s and Cockburn), along with Walker, were all schoolboy internationals. Other former city boys from the era who enjoyed professional careers include Michael Wainwright and Kris Lythe (both Churwell and Bruntcliffe).

As for the local competitions, high school trophies were shared equally between south and north of the river until league competitions were discontinued in 2000. However, for the first ten years after the merger, high school cup competitions were totally dominated by south of the river sides who won 40 of the 50 available trophies, completing clean sweeps in 1996-97 and 2004-05. Trophies were shared between a number of schools: Cockburn, Woodkirk, Morley, Bruntcliffe, Matthew Murray, Rodillian, Merlyn Rees, Royds and South Leeds. The “balance of power” has now swung completely to the north, with the south’s last victory by Bruntcliffe in the 2013-14 Under 16 final.

Primary school trophies followed a similar pattern of domination, with south of the river schools winning the Under 10 cup every year for the first nine years after the merger. The Under 11 cup was more evenly shared during this time, with north of the river sides more dominant since 2010-11. Successful Hunslet and Morley primary schools have been: Hunslet St Mary’s, Clapgate, Churwell, Middleton St Mary’s, Morley Newlands, Hunslet Carr and Westwood, with Beeston winning the Culley “Sevens”.

Over the last 25 years three schools from south of the river have achieved success in the Yorkshire Cup: Clapgate (Under 11) in 1997-98, Morley (Under 16) in 2001-02 and South Leeds (Under 12) in 2010-11.

In 2007-08, the first season that girls’ trophies were awarded, Bruntcliffe were Under 13 and Under 12 champions. Successes by girls’ teams from south of the river have been few and far between since then.

The past few years have been disappointing for Hunslet and Morley schools in terms of trophy wins. Pre-pandemic there were some “green shoots” of promise at the “old” Cockburn School and the “new” Cockburn John Charles Academy. Perhaps when the new season starts in September there will be new hope and new talent evident in schools throughout the city.

For more information about the history of schools’ rugby league in the city, see the official website: https://leedsandhunsletsrl.wixsite.com/mysite-4

Steve Boothroyd


Leeds & Hunslet Schools’ Rugby League