LEEDS RHINOS legend Danny McGuire will today play in his ninth Grand Final and says this one is “extra special”.
The derby against Castleford Tigers will be McGuire’s last game for Leeds before he joins Hull KR and comes just a year after the most difficult season of his career.
In 2016, McGuire’s first campaign as captain, he was restricted by injury to just 13 appearances and did not score a try. He says at times he wondered if he should carry on, but reckons being back at Old Trafford has made the heartache worthwhile.
“Last year we were pretty dreadful, for a number of reasons,” recalled the 34-year-old half-back. “Personally it was injury-ridden and at times last year I was questioning things. It was tough, but when you get those setbacks you’ve got to show what type of person you are and what type of player you are. You’ve got to try and come back from that and I managed to get myself up and running for pre-season and, touch wood, it has been a really good, enjoyable year.
“I’ve played 30ish games and really enjoyed the ride. Although we’re at the Grand Final now, there’s been a couple of dodgy moments and some setbacks and also some really positive results and great performances.
“We are at the big occasion now. It has been an exciting week and I’ve really enjoyed the build-up and everything that goes with it. I’m excited about the game and can’t wait. I have loved leading the lads this year, it has been a privilege and to do it on the biggest stage will be really special.”
McGuire, a seven-time Grand Final winner, is bowing out of Leeds in the most important game of the season.
“I remember the lads who did it in 2015,” he said of Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai.
“For them to go out with their last game being a winning Grand Final is what dreams are made of, it’s the fairytale finish.
“I remember having a beer with JP and Kev after it and the satisfaction they must have been feeling at the time is something I’d love to feel on Saturday night.
“We know the task in front of us. Cas have been brilliant all year and they are a fantastic team full of great players. It is going to be a big challenge and I think everyone would say we are heavily underdogs, but we have given ourselves an opportunity by finishing second. I think it’s the two best teams, we have given ourselves a shot and we’ve just got to turn up and play well on the night.”
McGuire insisted the fact it is his – and the retiring Rob Burrow’s – last game will not be spoken about ahead of the match, but he added: “Hopefully the lads will give that little bit extra.”
He said: “In Grand Finals you normally get everybody tipping everything in and there’s not that much more you can give, but if we can get that extra couple of per cent for myself and Rob hopefully the lads will do that.
“You want to send your mates out in the best way possible. I remember in 2015 thinking whatever I’ve got I am going to tip it out there because I want those boys to feel brilliant after the game and have the fairytale ending they deserve. I am sure the lads now will feel the same.”
McGuire insisted: “We haven’t spoken too much about myself and Rob. We may do and we may get a bit emotional at times, but it is about keeping all those emotions in check and delivering a performance on the night.
“With Rob, knowing it is going to be his last game, I know personally he is going to get everything I can give him on Saturday. I want him to finish in the best way possible.
“I have had a brilliant time at Leeds, it has been a massive part of my life for 20-plus years and to finish in the best way possible would be a dream, but we realise we’ve got a huge task in front of us.”
McGuire turned down the option to stay at Leeds for another year, but has no regrets about his “new challenge” in East Yorkshire.
“I probably thought I would play all my career at Leeds, I never thought about going anywhere else,” he said. “There’s been a couple of opportunities here and there, there was one from Saracens [rugby union club] in about 2005, but never any I’ve taken seriously.
“I’ve been really happy, but I think it’s the right time for the club to start looking to the future and myself for a new challenge.
“I am looking forward to a different drive to training, listening to a different coach and playing with some different players
“I probably could have stayed at Leeds for another year, but I knew it was the right thing to do for myself and the club.
“All good things come to an end.”