Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has paid tribute to the coaches, players and supporters of Leeds and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats for showcasing Super League in a good light on and off the pitch over the last two weekends.
The West Yorkshire neighbours faced each other in close-fought back-to-back matches, which saw Leeds edge to victory in both, and both clubs welcomed their highest home crowds of the season so far with over 28,000 attending both games in total.
A bumper crowd of 18,387 saw Rhinos beat Wildcats 20-18 at Headingley Carnegie, while 10,031 crammed into the Rapid Solicitors Stadium to see another see-saw thriller that eventually saw Leeds win 31-24.
Wildcats introduced segregation on Friday following crowd trouble in their previous home match against Widnes Vikings, which resulted in five people getting banning orders, but Hetherington was quick to praise the atmosphere at a ground he has fond memories of.
“I think the coaches and players should be congratulated for producing two high quality games, full of intensity and good rugby with both outcomes not settled until the last minute,” he commented.
“I was at Belle Vue in 1964 when 28,000 were crammed in to see the Castleford v Widnes Cup semi-final replay, but the atmosphere wasn’t as good as it was last Friday, when the fans of the Rhinos and Wildcats reminded us all just how crucial a role the fan has when it comes to showcasing our game to others.
“We pride ourselves on the family friendly make up of our audiences with good nature, give and take banter being part of it. Occasionally, this spills over with odd outbursts of excessive chanting and anti social behaviour on the terraces, and when it does occur we are all desperately disappointed because Rugby League fans care about our game and its reputation and we are hurt when it is damaged. So, it came as a disappointment to me when the fans of Leeds v Wakefield were segregated last week following trouble at a recent Wakefield v Widnes game.
“I hope this proves to be an isolated occasion and the 28,000 fans from both Clubs can take the lead by raising the level of courtesy and friendliness to opposing fans at our remaining games this season.”
Wildcats will be hoping for another big crowd when play-off rivals Bradford Bulls visit the Rapid Solicitors Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 3pm). St Helens are also yet to visit Wakefield before Richard Agar’s men close their regular season with a home match against old foes Castleford Tigers.