Written by Callum Walker
Perhaps one of the most impressive stadiums in Super League since its expansion, Headingley – or Emerald Headingley as it is currently known due to sponsorship – is also home to the most successful Super League side in the competition.
Leeds Rhinos, or previously Leeds St Johns and then Leeds RLFC, moved to Headingley in 1889 before the stadium actually opened in 1897 to host rugby league’s first-ever Challenge Cup Final in the same year.
Throughout its history, Headingley has had numerous upgrades with the first in the 1930s. The South Stand was completed in 1931 purposely, but the burning down of the North Stand during a game the following year against Halifax left another new stand in need of rejuvenation. Remarkably, work finished in the same year.
Though the Rhinos regularly amass over 15,000 supporters to their home games, none will come quite as close to Leeds’ fixture with Bradford Northern in May 1947. A massive 40,175 supporters flocked through the gates – a figure that would be impossible in today’s modern seating and standing facilities on the same ground.
Headingley has, of course, been used for internationals and big games, stretching back as far as 1908 when the Northern Union hosted New Zealand as well as the most prestigious of them all: the 1970 Rugby League World Cup Final between Great Britain and Australia.
It was 1991 when Leeds RFC were created and their subsequent move into Headingley. Then, in an unprecedented move, Leeds RFC became part of the world’s first dual-code rugby partnership, Leeds Rugby Limited with both the 13-code and 15-code side playing their home games at the same venue.
Wind the clock forward to today and new improvements – starting in 2015 – have brought the stadium into the 21st century.
Leeds are a rarity within Super League; whilst most clubs strive for up-to-date facilities with the building of a new ground such as St Helens, Salford and Hull FC, the Rhinos – along with Hull KR – have dedicated their efforts to transform their original home into a modern-day entertainment complex.
Located within the hustle and bustle of students, minorities and families, Headingley still retains that community feel as well as the intimidating atmosphere of the old-style ground.