WITH just five games remaining in a glittering career spanning almost 500 appearances, you could forgive Hull KR’s Danny McGuire for being slightly miffed when he was forced to sit one out.
Indeed, there is, in fact, now just four matches left before his retirement after the former Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain half-back was rested in Sunday’s loss at Wigan Warriors.
He returns to the fray for tomorrow’s crucial relegation battle with Wakefield Trinity, coach Tony Smith having always thought the 36-year-old’s energy would be better preserved for the forthcoming 80 minutes at KCOM Craven Park.
Some may have begrudged that decision, especially knowing the end is fast approaching.
It takes me a few days to get over a game now and that was a short turnaround. Tony wanted to give Mikey (Lewis) a game, too, and I was fully behind that.Danny McGuire
But McGuire’s reaction sums up the character and attitude that has helped underpin one of the modern era’s truly great careers.
“I wanted to play – of course –but Tony got me on the Monday morning after that Cas’ game when I could hardly walk,” he recalled to The Yorkshire Post, in relation to an extra-time victory where his drop-goal won it.
“It was a good time to tell me! I’ve always done as I’ve been told as a player and what the coach thinks is best for the team.
“It was probably the right call. It takes me a few days to get over a game now and that was a short turnaround. Tony wanted to give Mikey (Lewis) a game, too, and I was fully behind that.
“He deserved his opportunity. I was pleased to step aside and, considering it was his debut, I thought he did really well.
“Everyone will have questioned the physicality of it for him but he handled that really well and we all know how skilful he is.
“There’s no bigger test than Wigan away and, in all honesty, anything after that will be easier.
“I was pleased for him – and I do feel good now ahead of Sunday.”
That is good news for Rovers, not so for Trinity.
Both Yorkshire clubs sit on 18 points – as do Huddersfield Giants – just two more than London Broncos in the relegation spot.
With only four rounds remaining, it is clear how pivotal tomorrow’s game could be.
Rovers were level 18-18 at in-form Wigan before falling away but they have the habit under Smith of backing up a defeat with a victory.
Wakefield, in contrast, have won just once in their last dozen outings.
McGuire, who will become the Robins’ head of recruitment at the end of the season, admitted: “I am looking forward to it.
“It’s a big game in the context of everything where both sides are sitting in the table; it’s high pressure for both.
“We just have to keep playing. We’ve had some really good performances in the last six weeks and our standards have definitely improved. But Wakefield are desperate and we have to show that same desperation.”
Ordinarily, the hugely-decorated player, who remains Super League’s greatest try-scorer and won eight Grand Finals with Leeds, is concentrating on matters at the other end of the table.
“It is a bit different,” he conceded, when asked about fighting relegation. “But still, nothing changes with how I prepare and every game matters. There’s a bit of interest in who will get that fifth spot at the top end but there is probably more intrigue with what’s going on at the bottom. Obviously we’d like to be nearer that top-five but this is where we’re at. You only have to think back to a few weeks ago and Wakefield were up in the top five – third at one point – but they have had a bit of a lean patch.
“They’re not playing great at the moment but have a good team with some great individuals, some quick players on the edges and probably the biggest team in the comp’ for middles.
“We have to focus on ourselves and get everything in our camp in order.”
Rovers welcome back a key trio of winger Craig Hall, prop Mitch Garbutt and back-row Kane Linnett in their 19-man squad .
Lewis – the Academy product who only turned 18 last month and is viewed as McGuire’s long-term replacement – Will Dagger and George Lawler drop out.
Wakefield will give a debut to on-loan Hull FC prop Chris Green, Anthony England returns and Jordan Crowther comes in for Pauli Pauli. Meanwhile, McGuire rolled back the years to produce a 40/20 kick followed immediately by that drop-goal to defeat Castleford in Golden Point and edge his side closer to safety.
Does he still get the same buzz from such game-changing plays?
“It was more for the two points and what it means,” he said.
“There was a lot of work done to get in that position to have a chance but it was nice to have an impact and really pleasing to know I can still pull something out of the bag. It was a big win for us. Hopefully we can get the job done on Sunday with less drama but we know it will be tense.”
Robins stars Joel Tomkins and Weller Hauraki have joined the club’s new Academy as Scholarship Development coaches.