Leeds Rhinos: We may be sixth but we’re still in the mix – McGuire

Ryan Bailey of Leeds is tackled by London's Erjon Dollapi.
Ryan Bailey of Leeds is tackled by London's Erjon Dollapi.
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we are going to finish sixth in the table this year and that is disappointing, but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture.

We have been in the mix near the top of the ladder all year and this is probably the tightest the competition has been since the start of Super League.

There has been some disappointing losses in the weekly rounds, but we also had a fantastic run in the Challenge Cup and, being honest, we probably sacrificed a few league points for that competition. If we had won those games – at home to Bradford and away against London – the table would be looking a whole lot healthier from our point of view.

We are disappointed to be sitting where we are, because we wanted to finish as high as possible. At the start of the year top spot was one of our goals and we haven’t achieved that.

I know people say we aren’t bothered about the league, because when it comes to the play-offs we can raise our game and we are capable of winning it from anywhere, but that’s not true.

Finishing sixth makes it much tougher to get to Old Trafford and we would rather have created an easier route for ourselves. But saying that, once you are in the eight you have an opportunity. We are in the mix and we are going to give it everything we’ve got and see where we end up.

We have been involved in a lot of close games this year. There’s only been two – Warrington away and probably Wigan last week – when we’ve been well-beaten.

Other than those every game has been a contest and if a few things had gone our way, the bounce of the ball here and there or maybe a decision or two, we would be much higher up the table.

It has been a tough year, the competition is getting tighter and you have to scrap for every point.

We can’t expect that just because we are Leeds Rhinos we are going to be in the top-two. It doesn’t work like that, in fact it is the opposite because everybody wants to knock us off. We have had some good wins in the league and our form in the Challenge Cup was really strong.

We did look like being in the top two, but we took our eye off the ball towards the end of the league campaign and that cost us.

It means we will have to win two away games to get to the final, but we have done that before and we know what it takes. Looking back, I would not change the way we have done things this year and I don’t think anybody in the squad would.

Obviously if you are not playing, you aren’t happy.

It was frustrating losing to Bradford with the likes of Kev Sinfield and JP (Jamie Peacock) on the sidelines and it hurt when we lost at London with a lot of young kids in the team. But in terms of the bigger picture, our focus then was on giving ourselves the best preparation for the Challenge Cup. I think that was the right approach.

I know that not everyone agrees, but the fact is the teams we put out against Bradford and London were good enough to win those games, so it was performances that cost us, not selection decisions.

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SO it is a case of auf wiedersehen pet to Manchester and ‘haway the lads’ to Newcastle for next year’s Magic Weekend.

I like the sound of that. It’s a shame we’re leaving Manchester, for a year at least, because that’s been a good location.

It is a great stadium to play at and it’s quite easy for the fans of all clubs to get to.

But playing at St James’ Park is going to be brilliant.

I have never been there, so it will be a new experience, but from watching football on TV it looks like a fantastic ground and apparently it is right in the city centre, a bit like Cardiff, which should make for a top weekend.

Rhinos fans have had to make tough trips to Cardiff and Edinburgh in the past, but Newcastle’s just a couple of hours up the A1 and we should have great support.

I am pleased the Magic Weekend is continuing and it’s good the RFL are taking it on the road again, because we have a fantastic sport and the more people get an opportunity to see it live, the better.

Magic Weekend is part of the calendar now, like the Challenge Cup at Wembley and the Grand Final and it’s something everybody looks forward to.

We haven’t got the result we’ve wanted the last couple of years, but I have always enjoyed it, whether it has been at the Millennium, Murrayfield or Manchester.

It is something a bit different and it comes midway through the year, when you want a break from the routine. I know some people say it is an extra fixture, but it does add something to the competition in my opinion.

It is good that the venue for next year has been announced so far in advance and hopefully the fixtures will be confirmed soon.

The one disappointment about the event in the past has been the crowds. I think the average per day at the Etihad was around 30,000 and that’s not bad, but it could be a lot better.

It is a unique opportunity to see every team in action over two days. No other sport does it and there are plenty of other things going on in and around the stadium so I think we should be looking to get an extra 10,000 fans per day next year.

That might be ambitious, but I’m sure it is achievable with some imaginative marketing, reasonable ticket prices and so on. I’d also like to see it promoted locally, because the Geordies are sports mad and if they can be persuaded to go along and have a look I’m sure they’ll enjoy it.

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Richard Horne has been a great servant to Hull for a long time and the fact he is retiring after tonight’s game will make our challenge that bit harder.

I first met him when I was 14 and we were both playing for Yorkshire Schools. He was playing full-back in those days and I remember him because he was the only player to come over from Hull for training. He was the year above me and made his debut a couple of years before I did. I have played against him plenty of times over the last 13 years or so and he is somebody I have got a lot of time and respect for.

He is a great player and normally I’d think it would be nice for him to go out with a win, but we will be doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen. We always seem to come up against teams with extra reasons to win – players leaving, new stands opening and that sort of thing – but it’s a big game for us as well.

We can’t climb any higher on the table, but the last thing we want to do is go into the play-offs on five league defeats. We need to win to gain some momentum ahead of next week’s vital tie.

Gareth Ellis

Casting an eye over Leeds and Castleford’s potential rivals...