Leeds’s McGuire fin­ishes on a high

Rhi­nos cap­tain bows out af­ter 24-6 Grand Fi­nal suc­cess over Castle­ford

The Guardian Weekly - - Sport - Aaron Bower

As part of the pre-match en­ter­tain­ment for the 20th in­stal­ment of the Su­per League Grand Fi­nal, the sell­out crowd was treated to a north­ern soul med­ley to whet the ap­petite for kick-off. In hind­sight it might have been wiser to plump for Mo­town be­cause, as the Four Tops sang way back when, it’s the same old song once again for Leeds and their op­po­nents in Manch­ester’s Old Traf­ford sta­dium.

For the eighth time in 14 sea­sons the Su­per League ti­tle be­longs to the Rhi­nos. This time – achieved with a 24-6 tri­umph over Castle­ford Tigers – may feel ex­tra spe­cial given their ex­er­tions of 12 months ago when they were bat­tling against rel­e­ga­tion but, as they have done so many times in the past, Brian McDer­mott’s club showed that when­ever they reach Old Traf­ford it takes some­thing very spe­cial to beat them.

Since they first lifted the Su­per League tro­phy in 2004 against Brad­ford Bulls, only one side – the Bulls the fol­low­ing year – have man­aged to find the formula to beat the Rhi­nos at Old Traf­ford. Wi­gan, St He­lens, War­ring­ton and now Castle­ford have felt the might of Leeds’ time­honoured abil­ity to per­form in the sea­son’s fi­nale.

Most of them have also ex­pe­ri­enced the supremacy of Danny McGuire at one time or an­other; Castle­ford were no ex­cep­tion here. His per­for­mance was one that Leeds’s leg­endary leader, Kevin Sin­field, would have been proud of.

For all the talk of Castle­ford’s fairy­tale sea­son af­ter decades of strug­gle, McGuire, fin­ish­ing on the ul­ti­mate high here, was clearly in no mood to let his glit­ter­ing ca­reer with his home­town club fin­ish with a whim­per.

Next sea­son will bring a new chal­lenge at Hull Kingston Rovers for McGuire but, per­haps fit­tingly, his last per­for­mance in a Leeds shirt was one of the finest of his 424 dis­plays. “Magic Mags”, said his team-mate, Ste­vie Ward, af­ter the game.

McGuire agreed things could not have gone to plan bet­ter. “It’s a fairy­tale,” he said. “I went to bed on Fri­day night and dreamed of the fairy­tale fin­ish. A new chal­lenge will be good for me but I was de­ter­mined my Leeds ca­reer would fin­ish on a pos­i­tive note, and it couldn’t have gone any bet­ter. I said it was the right thing for the club and my­self and I stick by it.”

Leeds may not have been the best team this sea­son but they are the cham­pi­ons. And that, as the cur­tain falls on an­other Su­per League sea­son, is all that re­ally mat­ters.

“To get here was an achieve­ment,” said McDer­mott, nod­ding to the tur­moil of 2016. “To win it? That’s where I get lost for words.”

Ul­ti­mately, Leeds warmed to the task amid a flurry of han­dling er­rors – one of the more eye-catch­ing Old Traf­ford fi­nales this was not. But Tom Briscoe’s try from a McGuire kick, fol­lowed by a drop goal from the lat­ter right on half-time, opened up a two-score lead which, given how out of sorts Castle­ford looked, al­ways seemed a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage.

It was ev­i­dent that the first try of the sec­ond half would be cru­cial. Castle­ford sim­ply had to score it; they did not. In­stead it was Leeds who went fur­ther ahead, with McGuire again in­volved as he seized upon an er­ror from Eden to put the Rhi­nos fur­ther ahead.

Leeds would not stop there. Briscoe’s sec­ond pre­ceded an­other party piece from McGuire and Leeds, the half-back touch­ing down for his sec­ond try be­fore he added an­other drop-goal to ex­tend their lead to 24.

Not all fairy­tales have happy end­ings. Pre-match, the story was all about Castle­ford, and all eyes were on the Tigers. In the end it had been largely for­got­ten that when the Grand Fi­nal rolls around and Leeds are in­volved, it is al­most al­ways their night. By full-time they had done a fairly de­cent job of re­mind­ing their Su­per League ri­vals of their virtues.

Brad­ford Bulls be­came the first win­ners of the Women’s Su­per League Grand Fi­nal af­ter they beat their West York­shire ri­vals Feather­stone 36-6. Played at the Manch­ester Re­gional Arena as a cur­tain-raiser for the men’s Grand Fi­nal at Old Traf­ford, the Bulls were far too good for Feather­stone as they ended their do­mes­tic sea­son un­beaten, adding the league to their Chal­lenge Cup suc­cess. Led by the out­stand­ing Lois Forsell, tries from Kirsty Moroney and Forsell her­self put Brad­ford ahead and, while Ge­or­gia Roche replied for Feather­stone, that was as good as it got for them. Char­lotte Booth scored to open up a com­mand­ing lead be­fore half-time and sec­ond-half tries from Claire Garner, who also kicked four goals, Amy Hard­cas­tle, Char­lene Hene­gan and Haylie Hields rounded off the vic­tory.

Michael Steele/Getty

‘Fairy­tale fin­ish’ … Danny McGuire in­spired Leeds Rhi­nos to their eighth Su­per League Grand Fi­nal win in 14 sea­sons

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