GARY HETHERINGTON feels Danny McGuire is thriving at Hull KR due to the “freedom” of no longer being Leeds Rhinos captain.
The Blue and Amber legend makes a first return to Emerald Headingley on Saturday since ending his glittering 17-year career with his home city club.
McGuire won eight Grand Finals with Leeds, lifting the Super League trophy as skipper last October having taken over from Kevin Sinfield for the previous two seasons.
The veteran half-back, of course, surprised many by deciding to leave Rhinos to take up a two-year deal with Rovers.
But, even approaching his 36th birthday and despite a series of frustrating injuries, he has flourished at the Robins, showing there is still plenty of football in him yet.
Crucially, McGuire is fit and firing as they seek to secure their Super League place in the Qualifiers and is sure to get a welcome reception on Saturday.
McGuire has faced Leeds twice since leaving but the regular round game was staged at Elland Road as building work continued at Headingley.
Rhinos won 20-11 and then edged the return 20-18 in April.
Leeds chief executive Hetherington said: “Danny carried the heavy responsibility of being captain of Leeds Rhinos and that is a real pressure in itself.
“I think he’s thoroughly enjoying a different role with Hull KR now and he’s had the freedom to just go out and play the way he has without that added responsibility of captaincy.
“He wanted to carry on playing this season and he was right to do that. He’s still got plenty of football in him and he’s down to play next year as well.
“It’ll interesting to see Kev (Sinfield) now working against him and Rob Burrow as well who’s more involved in our first-team coaching as well.
“It’s the really big game of the week and in the context of the competition it’s crucial for both. It’s got all the ingredients of being a great match and we’ve had two really close and tough games against KR already.”
In the Qualifiers, Leeds have won both games so far but each was against Championship opponents in Toulouse Olympique and London Broncos.
Rovers – promoted 12 months ago – suffered a potentially damaging home defeat against Super League rivals Salford Red Devils but then picked up a crucial success at Championship leaders Toronto Wolfpack.
So far, the biggest result has been London winning at top-flight Widnes Vikings and Hetherington believes there is evidence that the Qualifiers – which Super League hope to disband in 2019 – are working.
He said: “Every game has been close through a really competitive competition. KR getting that win in Toronto was a huge result for them. Widnes going to Toulouse Saturday will be enormous; Toulouse are a real threat and they’re wanting to do well.
“It comes back to the reason we introduced them in the first place to try and bridge the gap between the Championship and Super League. But also, if a Championship club finishes above a Super League side over seven games to be promoted, the Super League side can hardly argue it’s not deserved.”