Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow in poignant moment after St Helens beat Catalans Dragons in classic Super League Grand Final
Ten years on from his greatest game and in very differnt circumstances, Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow was again involved in the Grand Final’s most memorable moment.
In 2011, Burrow was the unanimous winner of the Harry Sunderland man of the match award after a scintillating performance in Rhinos’ victory over St Helens.
Now in a wheelchair and battling motor neurone disease, Burrow - and his eldest daughter Macy - presented the same trophy to Kevin Naiqama, who also received every vote for his part in Saints’ thrilling 12-10 defeat of Catalans Dragons.
The Fijian scored both Saints’ tries in his last game before retirement, helping his team to a third successive Betfred Super League title to equal Leeds’ achievement from 2007-2009.
He was injured after scoring his second touchdown, which led to Lachlan Coote’s match-winning conversion - his second goal - and in tears after the final whistle.
“It’s an honour to receive it from Rob Burrow himself,” Naiqama said of the Harry Sunderland award.
“He is a true legend of the game who won so much and I was so grateful to meet him.”
This may not have been a classic Super League season, but the title decider - between clearly the two best teams - was a wonderful finale, with a several records matched or broken.
Catalans’ James Maloney converted former Castleford Tigers forward Mike McMeeken’s try and booted two penalties, eclipsing ex-Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield as the oldest player to score in a Grand Final and Tommy Makinson, the Saints winger, received the occasion’s first yellow card.
Sadly, the attendance of 45,117 was the lowest at Old Trafford since 43,533 watched the first title decider, when Leeds were beaten by Wigan Warriors, in 1998.
Saints just about deserved their victory, though Catalans coach Steve McNamara could point to some key moments which went against his men.
In the opening exchanges, Saints’ Peter Mata’utia punched Maloney in the face and McNamara felt that should have been a sending-off.
“That sort of incident, they generally go back and stop the play and look at it,” he said.
“I thought there was a lot of those bits and pieces, but it’s a big call.”
Makinson was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Fouad Yaha just short of Saints’ line, but video referee James Child decided the incident wasn’t worth a penalty try. McNamara felt his player would “without a doubt” have scored, but for the foul.
Saints boss Kristian Woolf paid tribute to his players afterwards. He said: “It’s a very deserved win from a group of blokes who haven’t just worked hard this year, but worked hard for three years to put themselves in this position.”
Despite the defeat, Catalans have joined the exclusive club of league leaders’ shield winners and McNamara pledged “we’ll be back”.
The big question for next year though is, can anyone dethrone this outstanding Saints team.
Catalans Dragons: S Tomkins, Davies, Langi, Whare, Yaha, Maloney, Drinkwater, Dudson, McIlorum, Bousquet, Whitley, McMeeken, Garcia. Subs Mourgue, Goudemand, J Tomkins, Kasiano.
St Helens: Coote, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Subs McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Welsby. Unused Amor.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).