Leeds Rhinos: Headingley is where Peacock’s heart belongs

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THE BUZZ he gets from playing at Headingley helped keep Jamie Peacock at Leeds Rhinos, the veteran prop has revealed.

Peacock, 37, will take to the famous turf for the final time in tonight’s First Utility Super League semi-final against St Helens.

Jamie Peacock

Jamie Peacock

Tonight’s winners will face Wigan in the Grand Final at Old Trafford next Saturday, after the Warriors beat Huddersfield Giants 3208 last night.

Last Friday’s dramatic win at Huddersfield, which secured the League Leaders’ Shield, also ensured home advantage in the play-offs and a last opportunity for three legends to play at one of rugby league’s most iconic venues.

Peacock will hang up hang up his boots at the end of the season and begin a new career as Super League rivals Hull KR’s rugby manager.

Tonight will also be his fellow front-rower Kylie Leuluai’s final game at Headingley and skipper Kevin Sinfield’s last there for Rhinos, though he will be back at the venue later in the year with Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union Club.

Looking ahead to what will be an emotional occasion, Peacock said: “I have always loved playing at Headingley.

“There’s been a couple of times in my career when I’ve thought about moving elsewhere.

“I’ve had offers from other clubs, but then running out in front of 17-18,000 there, I’ve thought no, this is the place for me, this is where I want to play.

“It is such a great, traditional ground and it has an atmosphere unlike any other.

“It’s why teams like coming to Headingley, because you know you are going to get a great atmosphere.”

Peacock moved into Headingley’s home changing rooms in 2006, after seven successful seasons with Bradford Bulls.

He admitted as a Bull he always wanted to beat Rhinos –to punish them for not signing him as a youngster – and asked to select his favourite memory of playing at the stadium, he said: “I can pick one that stands out in my mind, but it was playing for Bradford when we beat them in a really close derby in 2003.

“I made a break and passed on my inside for Forsh (Michael Forshaw) to score. It was about 30 degrees and a really balmy Headingley night, but in a Leeds shirt the best times have been in finals, which is good itself.”

Victory this evening would be the perfect farewell and give Peacock an opportunity to end his playing days at Old Trafford.

“I want to sign off on a good note, with another Grand Final win, but there’s two other teams standing in our way,” he said.

“I will be doing everything in my power – and the team will too – to make sure we get to Old Trafford and have a crack at winning it if we get there.”

There are no guarantees and Rhinos will need to see off a Saints team whose form has improved dramatically since their win at Headingley in the Super-8s a month ago.

There will be key battles all over the field, but one of the most intriguing is in the front-row, where Peacock will square up to his fellow Dream Team prop, Alex Walmsley.

Walmsley has been nominated, along with Leeds’ Zak Hardaker and Adam Cuthbertson, for this season’s Man of Steel award and Peacock said: “He’s been fantastic. He started the season well and improved as it has gone on.

“He’s improved last year and that’s why he’s up for Man of Steel. He has improved again, his defence has improved and he’s incredibly difficult to tackle.

“There are players who are incredibly difficult to tackle, but you only see them three or four times a game. You see him 20 or 30 times a game. He is relentless, doesn’t take a backward step and they are all the qualities you need as a front-rower.

“I’m looking forward to going up against him [tonight] and also to seeing him hopefully in an England shirt against the Kiwis, especially with the loss of George Burgess. The opportunity is now for him. He can come off the bench and change the momentum of the game. He would be one of those you’d put on and would certainly spark up the England attack and allow them to get on the front foot.”