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Leeds Rhinos to take on star-studded New Zealand in World Cup warm-up clash

By Ross Heppenstall

Leeds Rhinos will take on New Zealand in a mouth-watering World Cup warm-up match at Headingley this autumn.

The game will take place on Saturday, October 8 (6pm kick-off) and will be Leeds’ first meeting with Test opposition since a full house at Headingley saw them narrowly beaten by the Kiwis seven years ago. It comes a week before the tournament begins and eight days ahead of New Zealand’s opener against Lebanon in Warrington.

New Zealand will be back at Headingley 20 days after the Rhinos fixture to play Ireland in a World Cup group match. Leeds say the warm-up fixture will be a “celebration of rugby league with the club aiming to work with every community club in the region to provide special offers for all those involved in the community game to make it a night to remember at Headingley”.

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Leeds’ history against the Kiwis goes back 115 years to when they faced the pioneering All Golds – rugby league’s first international tourists – on October 26, 1907. It is the 13th meeting between Leeds and New Zealand, with the tourists having lost only once.

Rhinos’ chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “To have been granted a game against one of our great Test-playing nations is a huge honour and a privilege for Leeds Rhinos.

“International rugby league is the pinnacle of our sport and it has been sorely missed over the last three years due to the global pandemic. Our home at Headingley is intrinsically linked to the international game for over a century and I believe this game is a fantastic way to not only celebrate that history, but also look ahead to a thrilling home World Cup here in England.”

Australia will play Fiji at Headingley on the first day of the men’s tournament and the stadium also stages the opening two games of the women’s event.

Hetherington added: “Ourselves and the Kiwis have a long-shared history and this will be the chance to write a new chapter. Our links with New Zealand include the many great players who have played for us down the years like Bert Cook, Dean Bell, Brent Webb and Ali Lauitiiti.

“It is also important for us, as a club, to give our next generation of players unique opportunities to grow and test themselves. One aspect of our game we have lost in the summer era is the chance for club players to test themselves against touring nations and this is a wonderful opportunity for our squad.”

Lauitiiti and another ex-Rhinos man Adrian Morley featured for Leeds as guest players in the sold-out fixture seven years ago and Hetherington pledged “some surprises in store” this time.

Greg Peters, chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League, said: “The match celebrates our return to the northern hemisphere after an international rugby league hiatus while also commemorating the long-shared history between New Zealand and Leeds that holds a special place in the hearts of Kiwi fans and legends.

“It is the perfect ground for our current and future Kiwis to pave their way against some of the Northern Hemisphere’s best.”

Tickets will be available to Rhinos members from Monday, May 23 and go on general sale on Monday, June 6. Advance tickets start from £24 for adults, £16 concessions and £12 for juniors aged 16 and under, with matchday prices rising by £3.

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