Danny McGuire answered his coach’s call to kickstart Leeds Rhinos’ title defence with a five-try haul to see off Bradford in the penultimate round of the Magic Weekend.
The 29-year-old half-back, whose prolific try-scoring feats have been a hallmark of Leeds’ domination of the last eight years, single-handedly pulled his side back from the brink of another defeat that would have left them stranded outside the top eight.
So patchy has been their form this season that coach Brian McDermott this week claimed to be in a state of panic - an understandable feeling ahead of meetings with the top two of Warrington and Wigan.
That meant that defeat here was unthinkable and fortunately for the Rhinos, even at 18-6 down, McGuire was the coolest man inside a red-hot Etihad Stadium, taking his career tally of tries against the Bulls to 20 as well as setting up Carl Ablett for another as Leeds continued their record of winning every Magic fixture they have played in.
McGuire’s performance was just the tonic his coach needed, while national boss Steve McNamara will also be sure to have noted it. Of more concern for him, though, will be the extent of the injury that forced off centre Kallum Watkins midway through the second half.
But today belonged to McGuire and his first five-try salvo since he ran in a quintet against Widnes in 2004.
He was certainly needed, with Leeds failing to heed their coach’s midweek warnings as Bradford ran three quick tries past them in the first half.
The Bulls had lost Craig Kopczak in the first play of the game and also fallen behind when McGuire took in Kylie Leuluai’s third-minute pass, but rallied sufficiently to go ahead thanks to Elliott Whitehead’s close-range barge and Ben Jeffries’ show and go.
And, when Jamie Peacock failed to grab Luke Gale’s wind-assisted kick, ex-Rhino Matt Diskin was on-hand to dot down and put his side in charge, although he did appear to be in an offside position when doing so.
If the Bulls were lucky to get that try then fortunes were levelled out in the 23rd minute, when McGuire took in a forward-looking ball from Brent Webb before slipping the attentions of Gale to score.
And then, as has so often been the case throughout their almost identical 10-year careers with Leeds, McGuire and Rob Burrow linked up to devastating effect. Now used as an evasive hooker, Burrow is no longer McGuire’s regular half-back foil as he was for so long, but the magic was still there when the former jinked through a gap and sent the latter free for a hat-trick try nine minutes before the break.
Perfect conversion records from Gale and Kevin Sinfield ensured the scores were level at 18-all heading into the break, but that changed in the 47th minute, with McGuire doing the business again.
Sinfield was the creator this time, throwing a dummy on the back of a Richard Moore offload.
As if to show he was human, McGuire was unable to ground the ball at full stretch in the 55th minute, while there was concern when Watkins had to be helped from the field with 20 minutes remaining.
A Mexican wave then started in the crowd, although that was not indicative of the quality of play on show, with Bradford only denied a leveller through Karl Pryce owing to a ball steal earlier in the move.
But knowing they needed to pull clear to be safe, Leeds did just that. Sinfield took a high ball and set Ryan Hall free and, in the ensuing plays, McGuire sent Ablett over the line.
Sinfield split the posts with a drop goal and then McGuire took in a Webb pass for his fifth - becoming the first Leeds player to do so since Hall against Castleford three years ago.
There was still time for a try from Elliot Kear, but it was little more than a consolation for Bradford.