Rugby league review of 2012
A look back at how the rugby league year of 2012 unfolded, with Leeds Rhinos crowned Super League champions again.
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2012 was the year of the Rhino once again, but for long periods it looked like Leeds' recent domination of the Super League title would come to an end.
Huddersfield Giants were the fastest out of the blocks with Nathan Brown's men excellent in the first half of the campaign. In March the Giants ran out 22-12 winners at Headingley Carnegie, a match the visitors deservedly won.
The new season saw St Helens unveil their impressive Langtree Park stadium after a year at playing at Widnes' Stobart Stadium following their departure from the famous Knowsley Road.
However, a woeful start to the season for coach Royce Simmons, two wins from their opening seven fixtures, saw him replaced at the helm by Mike Rush and Kieron Cunningham, the duo filled in with distinction for the remainder of the campaign.
It was only in May that the Wigan Warriors usurped Huddersfield in top spot when a 32-12 success for Shaun Wane's men opened up a two-point lead for the Cherry and Whites. Following that defeat the Giants saw their form fall away over the rest of the term, but for Wigan the points proved the catalyst for an excellent regular season.
Wigan exemplified their form at the Magic Weekend in Manchester with an emphatic 42-16 success over fierce rivals St Helens, however, the game will also be remembered for the second-half brawl in which forwards Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson were sent off along with Saints substitute Shaun Magennis, who has since retired from the game due to injury.
Another possible Grand Final return could not have looked any further away for the Rhinos in June when Wigan ran out convincing 50-8 winners at Headingley, the first time Leeds had conceded a half-century of points at home since August 1996. Wane had massive boots to fill at the start of the campaign in replacing Michael McGuire, but he was demonstrating he was the man for the job.
June proved a difficult month for the Bradford Bulls, a team that claimed three Grand Final triumphs between 2001 and 2005.
The club had sold their Odsal lease to the RFL in January, however, mounting debt forced the historic Yorkshire outfit into administration in June - a move that would eventually see them deducted six points.
The league and fans rallied around the ailing club to ensure they finished the campaign and they were taken over by Omar Khan's consortium in September.
Few if any thought the Rhinos would avenge their 2011 defeat at Wembley to Wigan in Huddersfield, but come the big occasion Brian McDermott's men perform on the big stage.
The Warriors made uncharacteristic mistakes early on allowing the champions to race into a 16-0 lead. Wigan fought back but Leeds managed to fend off the holders' challenge to book a third straight trip to the capital.
However, Leeds' Wembley hoodoo struck again as Warrington made it three Challenge Cup successes in four years in August with a 35-18 triumph over the men from West Yorkshire. The Wolves beat Leeds 30-6 in the 2010 final and again emerged worthy winners this time around courtesy of tries from Joel Monaghan, Trent Waterhouse, Chris Riley, Ryan Atkins, Tyrone McCarthy and Man of the Match Brett Hodgson. Sadly for Leeds it was now six straight final defeats since bettering the London Broncos at the old Wembley in 1999.
Warrington maintained their form for the remainder of the regular season and it took a Super League record comeback for Wigan at Hull KR in September to clinch the League Leaders' Shield, a deserved accolade for the most consistent team throughout the season.
The win looked highly unlikely with the visitors trailing 26-0 and 36-22 at various stages of the contest. However, 20 points in the final 12 minutes capped a memorable turnaround as Wigan won 42-36.
Wigan's final game of the season turned out to be something of a damp squib, Michael McIlorum's first-half red card proved crucial as St Helens ran out 26-18 winners at the DW Stadium. But Wane's men responded in the play-offs as George Carmont bagged a hat-trick in a comfortable victory over the Catalan Dragons, who finished a credible fourth in the final table.
St Helens stunned Warrington in week one to move to within 80 minutes of yet another Grand Final return, but the Wolves would have their revenge two weeks later to book their first-ever Grand Final appearance.
Leeds, having won away at Catalan, upset Wigan in the semi-final to secure yet another trip to Old Trafford. The Wolves were the favourites and led 18-14 thanks to Ryan Atkins' try, however, scores from Carl Ablett and Ryan Hall ensured Kevin Sinfield lifted the trophy once again.
MOMENTS OF THE YEAR
Hull KR's last-gasp 32-30 victory over city rivals Hull FC in the Magic Weekend. The Rovers looked dead and buried with 12 minutes to go, but Craig Sandercock's side fought back before David Hodgson's try clinched an improbable victory.
The Catalan Dragons trailed St Helens 30-26 at Langtree Park and were down to the last play of the game. The French side remarkably kept the ball alive before Daryl Millard picked up possession and darted over to score to level the game. Scott Dureau's last-gasp conversion sealed the win.
Few, if any, gave the winless Widnes Vikings any hope of beating table-toppers Wigan in March. Shaun Wane fielded a weakened team, although the visitors were still expected to win. With the scores level and against the odds, Lloyd White's drop goal secured a remarkable 37-36 win for Denis Betts' team.
Wigan ran riot in the Magic Weekend against St Helens, scoring 26 points in the opening 25 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. The Warriors eventually won 42-12, although Wigan's Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson, plus Saints' Shaun Magennis, were all sent off in another fiesty encounter between the two rivals.
Nearly 21,000 were in attendance as the beleaguered Bradford Bulls beat fierce West Yorkshire rivals the Leeds Rhinos 12-4 in a West Yorkshire derby over the Easter weekend. The game was largely forgettable, but Bradford upset the form guide to see off Brian McDermott's men at a time when the club's future seemed to be in serious jeopardy.
Wakefield enjoyed an August to remember. Richard Agar's team finished the season with seven consecutive victories. It could have been so different, but two drop-goals at the death in games against St Helens and Hull KR, both from Paul Sykes, handed the Wildcats two stunning victories.
The silverware arrived early in the season for Leeds Rhinos as they beat Manly 26-12 in February to win the World Cup Challenge. There was a sell-out crowd at Headingley to witness Brian McDermott's side go head-to-head with the NRL's finest and it was the Super League club who triumphed.
The magic of the Challenge Cup was alive and well in 2012 as Featherstone Rovers upset the Castleford Tigers in the fourth round of the competition. Rangi Chase and co were expected to eliminate their lower league opposition, but Daryl Powell's men hadn't read the script. Tangi Ropati, Kyle Briggs, Ian Hardman and Greg Worthington all scored tries in a thrilling 23-16 win.
The London Broncos were expected to be cannon fodder for Challenge Cup finalists Warrington Wolves the weekend before the showpiece event at Wembley. The Broncos instead took advantage of Tony Smith's decision to rest key personnel to run out remarkable 62-18 winners, full-back Luke Dorn scoring four tries for the capital club.
What a night for Hull FC at Odsal it proved to be! In contrast, it was a game the Bradford Bulls will want to forget in a hurry. It promised to be a joyous occasion for the Bulls following Omar Kahn's takeover of the club, but the full-time whistle showed 70-6 to Hull FC on the scoreboard as the visitors scored 13 tries.
MAN OF THE YEAR
The end of the 2012 Super League season marked a decade for Kevin Sinfield as the captain of the Leeds Rhinos. He picked the best way to end the campaign, helping his team to Grand Final success at Old Trafford.
Once again the 32-year-old Oldham-born star was overlooked for the coveted Man of Steel award, a prize that recognises Super League's most influential and most consistent player through the season.
However, the England international got his hands on the prize every player wanted - the Super League trophy. For the sixth time in seven years he helped the West Yorkshire club triumph in the game's showpiece event.
Although Challenge Cup glory has eluded Leeds over the past decade the Rhinos have become Old Trafford specialists in recent years and Sinfield was pivotal in their 26-18 success over Warrington in October.
The stand-off overcame being knocked out in Manchester following a clash of heads with Michael Monaghan to play a captain's knock by scoring a try and inspiring Leeds to yet another title despite an inconsistent season for the club.
Such has been the professionalism of the club's long-serving player that the Headingley Carnegie side renamed December 3 as Sir Kevin Sinfield Day in honour of their legendary captain.
Sinfield has not looked back since being awarded the captain's armband, leading the team to 17 major finals, winning nine of them, including a record breaking six Grand Finals along with two League Leaders Shields.