THERE WASN’T really any question, but departing captain Danny McGuire’s two classic tries in last night’s 36-12 win at Huddersfield Giants showed Leeds Rhinos what they will be missing next year.
It was McGuire’s final league game for Leeds before he joins Hull KR and he rolled back the years by twice slicing through Giants’ defence.
McGuire is Super League’s all-time leading try scorer and last night’s brace took his total in the competition to 236.
It was also a significant night for Rob Burrow, who will hang up his boots at the end of the season.
His try was his 168th in Super League and he is now joint-eighth on the competition’s all-time list.
It was Grand Final-type conditions, driving rain at times, a slippery pitch and greasy ball and both teams made a series of errors, but Leeds played well - particularly in defence.
Since they trailed 30-6 at half-time against Castleford Tigers two weeks ago, they have scored 98 points and conceded only 22.
Hull’s win at Castleford Tigers last night ensures they will finish third and visit Headingley for a sudden-death semi-final in six days’ time.
Leeds will be in for a sterner test, but can go into that game in confident mood. They played some good rugby at times, scored several quality tries and were strong in defence from start to finish.
Despite there being nothing at stake, Leeds fielded a strong team, although coach Brian McDermott shuffled things around.
Leeds will be in for a sterner test, but can go into the Hull game in confident mood. They played some good rugby at times, scored several quality triesThe YEP’S Peter Smith
Carl Ablett and Jimmy Keinhorst started, after being dropped for last week’s win over Salford Red Devils.
Jack Ormondroyd - who has been playing for Featherstone Rovers on dual-registration - was in the second-row. He had a fine game.
Three of the substitutes seven days earlier - Matt Parcell, Brett Delaney and Anthony Mullally - came into the first 13.
Mullally has been Leeds’ most-improved player this year. He got long minutes and capped an impressive performance against his former club with a try.
The luckless Delaney - starting for the first time since returning from a double knee injury last month - lasted only five minutes before hobbling off after knocking on close to Huddersfield’s line.
Liam Sutcliffe, Rob Burrow, Adam Cuthbertson and Jamie Jones-Buchanan all switched to the bench and Stevie Ward and Brad Singleton were rested.
Sutcliffe came on in the second-row when Delaney suffered his hamstring injury and had a big game defensively.
Brett Ferres, who returned from injury against Salford, dropped out after his troublesome knee flared-up at training during the week.
Leeds were always in command, leading 16-0 by the start of the second quarter.
Sam Rapira, making his final appearance for Huddersfield, knocked on in the first set of the game and Leeds opened the scoring from the resulting scrum.
Mullally and Ormondroyd both drove the ball in strongly, then Parcell went blind from acting-half and Kallum Watkins spun out of a tackle to touch down. He also converted from the touchline.
After 15 minutes, Ormondroyd’s tackle forced Rapira to knock-on close to Leeds’ line, but Ryan Hall spilled the ball directly from the scrum.
Ukuma Ta’ai went over in the resulting set, but Kruise Leeming’s pass was forward and Leeds went further ahead within seconds.
It was one for McGuire’s highlights reel. He went down the blindside from a scrum 40 metres out. Tom Briscoe was in support and McGuire used the winger as a foil, dummying past the full-back and scoring untouched.
That was unconverted, but Leeds scored their third try three minutes later after a knock-on by Jordan Rankin.
Jones-Buchanan and McGuire worked the ball to Joel Moon, he kicked ahead and Keinhorst hacked on again before diving on the ball. Watkins’ goal made it 16-0 after 21 minutes.
Leeds had been ruthless in punishing Huddersfield’s errors, but a mistake by Jones-Buchanan set up the attack which led to Giants getting back into the game.
Rhinos held out comfortably for five tackles, but then Danny Brough dabbed a kick behind the line, Hall and Ashton Golding failed to clear and Michael Lawrence followed through to touch down. Brough added the extras, extending his scoring sequence against Rhinos to 24 matches.
Brough might have crossed himself just before the interval, but he was denied by Sutcliffe’s excellent ball and all tackle and then Lee Gaskell’s kick went dead just before Rankin could reach it.
Giants had a chance to close the gap further at the start of the second half when Ryan Hinchcliffe made a clean break, but Rankin’s fumble let Leeds off the hook; then Daniel Smith burst into open space, but Hall got back to make a try-saving tackle.
After 15 minutes on the back foot Rhinos extended their lead out of the blue with McGuire’s second try.
It was another top-class effort, begun and finished by the skipper but with an assist from Golding.
McGuire dropped a shoulder and dashed into space with the full-back in support. He took the pass and though Brough made a tackle he got the ball away to the No 6.
Watkins’ third goal opened a 14-point gap.
Giants had one more opportunity to get back into the game, a couple of minutes after McGuire’s try, but Hall and Golding forced Lawrence to knock-on over the line.
Leeds moved upfield from the 20-metre restart and Mullally barged over from close range, making Watkins’ conversion a formality.
Watkins added a penalty after a high tackle by Rapira on Burrow. Hinchcliffe had a strong game for Giants and he grabbed a consolation try 13 minutes from time which Brough improved.
But then Sutcliffe’s outstanding pass sent Hall away and Burrow was in support to cross. Watkins’ sixth goal completed the scoring.
It was a disappointing performance by Giants, who ended the year with four successive defeats.
Hinchcliffe should have scored a second try in the final moments, but Golding forced him to knock-on over the line, which typified Leeds’ strong defensive effort.
Delaney’s injury was a blow for him and Leeds, but they were able to rotate their side and McGuire and Moon were both rested in the second half ahead of next week’s make or break game.
The four first-half penalties were shared. The count finished 6-4 in Leeds’ favour.