Majestic McGuire destroys Tigers’ dreams
CASTLEFORD TIGERS 6 LEEDS RHINOS 24 GRAND FINAL
DANNY McGUIRE will wake this morning and surely feel like Danny, the Champion of the World, not just Super League.
Admittedly, he will probably rise with a sore head, too, and could do for the rest of the week as Leeds Rhinos’ celebrations continue, but you get the gist.
The heroic captain hardly put a foot wrong in his 424th and final game for his beloved Leeds on Saturday.
It proved one of the principal reasons why his hometown club are Super League kings yet again, an eighth time in just 14 seasons.
Roald Dahl loved weird and wonderful tales, but veteran Leeds half-back McGuire could hardly have scripted a finer way to sign off before joining Hull KR.
There was no poaching pheasants to be seen here, but Castleford certainly looked like sitting ducks, flapping around in the wet at Old Trafford, a combination of their own ineptitude and Rhinos’ masterful control meaning their first appearance in a Grand Final will be remembered mainly for embarrassment.
McGuire scored two tries, set up the first of Tom Briscoe’s brace, added a drop goal in either half, but mainly just turned the screw on the favourites with his brilliant pinpoint kicking.
It was no surprise; the 34-yearold knows every inch of that Old Trafford turf, being present in all seven of their previous wins, too, and when it is raining in Manchester in October there is nobody better at making opponents pay for their waywardness.
This is testimony to how McGuire has evolved his game since first appearing there and scoring an iconic try that sealed the West Yorkshire club’s first title in 32 years in 2004.
Back then, the Leeds tyro was known for his lightning speed and try-poaching ability, attributes that would serve him well as he went on to become Super League’s record try-scorer.
But he has developed his game further as he has got older to be- come a master craftsman at guiding his side around the field, crucially creating and maintaining pressure, and Hull KR will be elated that he is joining them for their top-flight return in 2018.
This said, McGuire still looked as lively as he did 13 years ago as all the old traits were evident when popping up to dive over jubilantly in the 52nd minute after Greg Eden spilled a high kick.
Even with still so long to play, trailing 11-0, you feared for Castleford, the League Leaders’ Shield winners who, for all their elan and elegance in storming top for the first time, operated like “amateurs” in the words of their Man of Steel Luke Gale.
The England scrum-half – who ordinarily has such fun against his hometown club that discarded him as a teenager – was not exaggerating; they were abysmal bysmal.
Head coach Daryl Powell conceded afterwards that 11 or 12 of his players saved their worst display of the season for the night that mattered most. Again n, this was no hyperbole e; he was dead right.
It must have been so o disheartening for Pow well seeing his side – with hout Zak Hardaker afte er he was controversiall ly dropped – unravel s o spectacularly, especiall ly as they had looked soli id enough in the openin ng exchanges.
However, as soon a as Adam Milner spilled wit th no one near him in th he seventh minute and a nother inexplicable ha andling error followed soo on after, it all simply playe ed into Leeds’s hands.
When the rain got hea avier, it soon became cle ear that the side with 42 Grand Final winners’ rings between them – Castleford had none – would tap into all that experience and edge their way home.
The more a desperate Tigers side tried, the more erratic they became while in contrast, McGuire and the increasingly influential Joel Moon simply settled in to do the all-important essentials.
McGuire had teed up Briscoe’s opener in the 12th minute and, with typical minimum fuss, slotted a drop goal with the last play of the first half for a 7-0 interval lead. Castlefordf had held onto the ball long enough to create a couple of opportunities. But, typically, McGuire got a hand to dislodge possession from Eden just as the Tigers full-back was about to start celebrating and another Jy Hitchcox effort was ruled out as Gale had run behind his own man in the build-up.
There was a sense Castleford – who had annihilated Leeds 66-10 in March and won all of the previous eight meetings between the sides – could not mess up as much again in the second period, but somehow they did.
They have been a wonderful advert for rugby league in 2017 and brought so much positivity to the sport with the manner in which they swept aside so many opponents.
However, rather than Dahl’s magical make-belief, this 80 minutes will go down as pure Stephen King horror.
Granted, Briscoe’s second did come from a forward pass, but Jack Walker – at 18 years and 60 days the youngest Grand Final winner – had cut a swathe through them quite brilliantly to create that third Leeds try.
McGuire added his second try and slotted another drop goal as he soaked up his last moments as a Leeds player.
Thankfully, Castleford avoid- ed the ignominy of becoming the first side to be kept pointless in a Grand Final when Alex Foster got over in the final minute, Gale converting, but it was no consolation.
McGuire collected the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match, just as he did when they won in 2015, but this time it was a unanimous vote.
The only other player to do that in Grand Final history was colleague Rob Burrow six years ago.
He retired on Saturday. They hoisted the trophy together. Two Leeds legends as one.
TH HEATRE OF DREAMS: Danny McGuire dives in for a spectacular try as he crowned his last ga ame in a Leeds Rhinos shirt with a man-of-the-match display, which included a try-saving tackle on Ca astleford’s Greg Eden, above.
FINAL AGONY: One young Castleford Tigers fan wonders where it all went wrong as the League Leaders’Leaders Shield winners slumped to a 24 24-66 defeat to Leeds, much to the delight of Rhinos supporters.