Leeds’s McGuire finishes on a high
Rhinos captain bows out after 24-6 Grand Final success over Castleford
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.
‘Fairytale finish’ … Danny McGuire inspired Leeds Rhinos to their eighth Super League Grand Final win in 14 seasons