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Leeds Rhinos’ departing captain Danny McGuire inspired his team to their eighth Super League Grand Final triumph on Saturday with a commanding display in difficult conditions in Manchester.
Throughout the regular season their opponents, Castleford Tigers, had played some of the most entertaining rugby seen for many years.
The club from the small former mining town in West Yorkshire had developed a reputation for free-flowing rugby thanks to their memorable sides of the 1960s, ’80s, and mid-90s.
This led to a nickname, Classy Cas, and coach Daryl Powell’s current incarnation of this are perhaps the best of the bunch as they reached the club’s first-ever Grand Final in style.
However, despite a dominant display throughout a season which saw them lift the League Leaders Shield, in the most important game of all they were stifled by their own mistakes and the performance of Leeds’s midfield maestro McGuire.
The scrum half, who will play for newly promoted Hull KR next year, kicked to the corner to set up the opening try for Tom Briscoe and the winger took it brilliantly despite close attention from two Castleford defenders.
Sometimes the simplest of acts can be the most ruthless, and the captain’s drop-goal seconds before the half-time hooter rubbed salt into the Tigers’ wounds, capping of a half of rugby where the entertainers had dwindled rather than dazzled.
The conditions didn’t help. Sheets of rain poured down on the Old Trafford pitch in the hours before the final, and this made for a sloppy game with plenty of dropped ball.
It greatly affected Castleford’s style of free-flowing rugby and the ball slid out of players’ hands like a bar of soap.
“It’s not the best ball, but we’ve played in wet conditions before and haven’t seen that many errors, we never really got going,” said a disappointed Powell.
While the 7-0 deficit at half-time gave his side hope, they started the second half as they’d ended the first. McGuire crossed for the first of his two opportunistic efforts when full back Greg Eden, standing in for Zak Hardaker who’d been dropped following a “breach of club rules,” spilled Joel Moon’s high kick near the line. The No 6 collected the ball on the run and slid over the try line and off the pitch thanks to the football ground’s narrow in-goal areas.
Moon was involved again, sending Briscoe over in the corner with a well-judged offload in the tackle. Replays hinted at a forward pass, but it was an impressive piece of skill from the stand-off given the conditions.
The Rhinos were charging towards their eighth Grand Final win in the last 14 seasons, and McGuire capped off his performance with a try from Rob Burrow’s kick, before slotting over another drop-goal late in the game.
Castleford’s own late try spared them the embarrassment of being the only team to be nilled in a Grand Final — a stark contrast to the total of 156 points they’d put past Leeds in their four previous meetings this season.
When asked how the club would replace a player like McGuire, Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: “You don’t replace them, you just adapt and you evolve. You’re not going to find another Danny McGuire because there isn’t one.”
The player himself highlighted the input from his teammates which allowed him to run the game. “My job was to steer the team around, but it’s easy when you’ve got a bunch of players who will run for a brick wall for you.
“It’ll be sad [to leave],” he added. “I’ve been at Leeds since I was a kid, but think it’s right for me and the club.”
Burrow is another player who leaves the club, having announced his retirement earlier in the season. The half-back has made a big impact on Leeds and on the sport as a whole, and he played his part in this latest win when he was introduced in the second half.
“It’s a fairy-tale ending for me,” he said. “We’ve been good in this stadium and we had to find a performance. Cas have been fantastic this year and I’m sure they’ll go on to do great things.”
McDermott was in a defiant mood after the victory, and said it would take time for it to sink in. He dedicated this triumph to the club and its fans.
“This is not just the coaches’ or the players’ win,” he summarised. “It’s for everybody, including the fans who’ve stuck with us. The whole club deserve this.”
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