Danny’s the boy

Danny McGuire signs off with two tries as Rhi­nos crush Tigers’ hopes of their first Su­per League tri­umph

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Jim White at Old Traf­ford

There is to be no new name on the Su­per League Grand Fi­nal tro­phy af­ter all. Castle­ford Tigers ar­rived here as the run­away win­ners of the Su­per League, con­vinced they could be­come but the fifth team to win the Grand Fi­nal in its 20th year. In­stead, they were steam­rollered by ex­pe­ri­ence as Leeds gal­loped to an eighth win in the big­gest match in the game. And this af­ter fin­ish­ing bot­tom at the end of the 2016 sea­son.

It was no spec­ta­cle, no grand demon­stra­tion of skills, a tri­umph of at­tri­tion rather than flam­boy­ance. But for Danny McGuire, play­ing in his ninth Grand Fi­nal on what was his last ap­pear­ance for the club be­fore he heads to Hull KR, it was the most mag­nif­i­cent of per­sonal send-offs. A man-of-the­match award sealed with a pair of sniper’s tries and a cou­ple of dropped goals: as good­byes go, not even Sir Alex Fer­be­gan gu­son’s swan­song in this sta­dium four years ago could match this for an adieu.

“What a night,” was McGuire’s re­ac­tion. “We’ve come from a dark place last year, the com­mit­ment and the ef­fort has been sec­ond to none and I can’t thank the boys enough. It’s an un­be­liev­able way to go out. I’ve had a great jour­ney and I’ll en­joy th­ese next few days.”

McGuire’s grin il­lu­mi­nated a grim squall of an evening in Manch­ester. But, then, how­ever wretched, the weather was never go­ing to dampen the en­thu­si­asm of the 72,000 who had jour­neyed over the Pen­nines. More than 30,000 came from Castle­ford, which is roughly three-quar­ters of the town’s en­tire pop­u­la­tion; with the streets emp­tied, the lo­cal bur­glars must have had the run of the place.

De­spite the risk to their prop­erty, the Tigers fans had ar­rived in good heart. Their team had fin­ished 10 points ahead of the rest at the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son, de­liv­er­ing a stag­ger­ing points dif­fer­ence of plus-391. To put that into sta­tis­ti­cal per­spec­tive, Leeds, in sec­ond place, reg­is­tered plus76. What’s more, those points were ac­cu­mu­lated with a zest­ful swag­ger. Not least in the 66-10 vic­tory over the Rhi­nos in March.

But while Castle­ford might have been fizzing with form, Leeds pos­sess some­thing their op­po­nents lack: Grand Fi­nal ex­pe­ri­ence. Rob Bur­row, start­ing his last game be­fore re­tire­ment on the Rhi­nos bench, was em­broiled in his ninth Grand Fi­nal for the club, which is two more ap­pear­ances at the game’s top ta­ble than the en­tire Castle­ford squad had be­tween them.

And the Tigers were obliged to en­ter new ter­ri­tory with­out their stand-out player. Zak Har­daker, the 25-year-old Eng­land in­ter­na­tional who had scored 13 tries in 30 games, was left out by coach Daryl Pow­ell for an un­spec­i­fied breach of club rules.

Whether it was the lack of their star per­former or sim­ply the scale of the oc­ca­sion, from the start, in their de­but in the lime­light, Castle­ford looked nervy. The ball slipped from hand in con­di­tions, knock-ons and drops be­came con­ta­gious. And Leeds, griz­zled, de­ter­mined, un­com­pro­mis­ing, quickly took con­trol.

Af­ter only seven min­utes, a su­perb cross­field kick from McGuire was aimed at Tom Briscoe. The three-quar­ter leapt above two Castle­ford de­fend­ers to catch the ball and fun­nel it over the line, the le­git­i­macy of his ef­fort con­firmed by the video ref­eree. Kal­lum Watkins cleanly con­verted.

Not even their most fer­vent sup­porter could de­scribe it as an ex­hi­bi­tion of at­tack­ing rugby, but Leeds to look what they are: the sea­soned reg­u­lars, ex­pe­ri­enced in man­ag­ing con­di­tions and nerves. Never mind that they had al­most been rel­e­gated last sea­son, this is a club with un­fath­omable re­serves of nous. Ste­vie Ward be­gan to frighten with his run­ning, a steady bar­rage of kicks rained down on the Castle­ford back­line.

And be­fore any­one from Castle­ford had the chance to ap­pre­ci­ate that, yes, the at­mos­phere at a Grand Fi­nal is as noisy as any sport­ing event in the cal­en­dar, Watkins slid in on yet an­other deft through-kick by McGuire to claim a try. How­ever, re­peated anal­y­sis by the video ref­eree sug­gested he had not grounded the ball prop­erly.

But even with that let-off the Tigers were strug­gling to find the flour­ish that had served them so well this sea­son. Un­able to find their rhythm, they were ced­ing ter­ri­tory and pos­ses­sion; the fusil­lade kept com­ing, the balls kept rain- ing down be­hind the or­ange back­line, the Tigers were blocked.

Even when they had the op­por­tu­nity to break out, things did not go right. When Briscoe gifted them a penalty, the ball was fed out to Greg Eden, gal­lop­ing along the flank. But a mag­nif­i­cent last-ditch tackle from McGuire slapped the ball from his hands just as he ap­peared to be launch­ing for the line. Jy Hitch­cox was then de­nied by an­other bril­liant piece of Leeds re­cov­ery. McGuire’s dropped goal with the last kick of the half added to the sense that this was not Castle­ford’s night.

But the Tigers fans, in their face paint and stripy bob­ble hats, kept bel­low­ing out their op­ti­mism. They knew their team had come back be­fore – af­ter all, they were 16-0 down to Cata­lan ear­lier in the sea­son and won 32-24. The trou­ble was, this was not Cata­lan they were play­ing. It was Leeds: gnarled, canny, prag­matic. And pre­sented with such un­com­pro­mis­ing op­po­nents, too of­ten, Castle­ford – sav­ing their worst per­for­mance of the sea­son for last – gave the ball away un­nec­es­sar­ily; over­am­bi­tious kicks ended up in white-shirted hands, pos­ses­sion slith­ered away. And Leeds kept press­ing, threat­en­ing, smoth­er­ing, their for­wards grind­ing down Castle­ford.

There was in­evitable fur­ther re­ward for their dom­i­nance when McGuire glee­fully scooped up a loose ball af­ter Eden had dropped Joel Moon’s up and un­der, div­ing over the line and slid­ing into the ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ings. Briscoe added fur­ther in­sult to in­jury by gam­bolling over in the cor­ner for his sec­ond try af­ter Moon had opened up the op­por­tu­nity with a de­li­cious side-step.

McGuire then took ad­van­tage of yet an­other Cas han­dling er­ror to slap down his sec­ond try, be­fore de­light­edly chipping over his sec­ond dropped goal. Alex Foster’s late con­so­la­tion was not enough to stem the rush for the ex­its among the few Castle­ford fans who re­mained in the sta­dium.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get to Old Traf­ford, never mind win it, and now look at us,” said the Leeds coach Brian McDermott. “It’s the best win ever, this one.”

It may not have been pretty, but he had a point. The truth was that Leeds ex­uded the kind of dom­i­nance Castle­ford had made their own this sea­son. In the one that mat­tered, the Rhi­nos had stolen the Tigers’ thun­der.

‘We’ve come from a dark place last year. It’s an un­be­liev­able way to go out. I’ve had a great jour­ney’

That’s all from us: Danny McGuire and Rob Bur­row hold the tro­phy af­ter play­ing their fi­nal games for Leeds. Cap­tain McGuire was named man of the match af­ter scor­ing two sec­ond-half tries in yes­ter­day’s fi­nal

Sign­ing off in style: Danny McGuire marked his last ap­pear­ance for Leeds Rhi­nos, in his ninth Grand Fi­nal. be­fore mov­ing to Hull KR, with two tries to help seal his eighth win­ner’s medal at Old Traf­ford yes­ter­day

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