While many Australians were looking forward to the first ball to be bowled in the Boxing Day Cricket Test, rugby league fans in England were looking for a fix, after almost three months without club football.
Before ‘Summer Rugby’ was introduced in 1996, Boxing Day derby clashes were the biggest money spinners in English league, with the St Helens v Wigan match arguably the most famous.
In 1957, for instance, there were 33,499 fans at Central Park, Wigan to witness the home side go down 12-9 to St Helens.
Now, those days are gone, but a number of English clubs still try to get the most out of Boxing Day, by putting on ‘derby games’, ‘friendlies’ as they call them in England; trial matches as we know them in Australia.
Boxing Day 2018 saw Leeds host Wakefield Trinity at Headingley, while Bradford played York at Odsal Stadium.
Leeds beat Wakefield 10-4, in front of a crowd of over 10,000, while Bradford were too good for fellow second tier side, York, winning 20-12.
Leeds’ Wests Tigers’ recruit, New Zealand and Tongan international, Tui Lolohea was blown away with the warm reception he received from the Headingley faithful.
Lolohea and Kevin Naiqama (St Helens) are the Tigers’ two losses to Super League.
Other NRL players joining English clubs for 2019 include: Blake Austin (Canberra to Warrington); Matt Frawley (Canterbury to Huddersfield); Joseph Paulo (Cronulla to St Helens); Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast to Leeds); Akuila Uate (Manly to Huddersfield); Lachlan Coote (North Qld to St Helens); Suaia Matagi (Parramatta to Huddersfield); Trent Merrin (Penrith to Leeds); Jason Clark (South Sydney to Warrington).
Anthony Gelling (NZ Warriors) has joined English Championship side, Widnes, while Ricky Leutele (Cronulla) has joined Canadian club, Toronto Wolfpack, who also play in the English Championship.
Hurrell and Merrin were not considered by Leeds for the Boxing Day clash, because of injury.
Photo 1: Boxing Day 1970 at Knowsley Road – Keri Jones (Wigan) trues to stop Frank Wilson (St Helens).