by peter smith GOLDEN boy Danny McGuire made his own contribution to the great Iestyn Harris debate as Leeds Rhinos swept Widnes Vikings aside at Headingley.
The pre-match talk was of former Rhinos skipper Harris' impending return to rugby league.
Leeds and Bradford are both vying for Harris' services, but his successor McGuire's five-star display made it clear Rhinos have no vacancy at stand-off.
Not even Harris at his Man of Steel-winning best scored five tries in a game for Rhinos.
Before McGuire's lethal attacking skills destroyed Widnes, the last Leeds player to score more than four tries in a game was Del Hodgkinson, who touched down six times in a Yorkshire Cup tie against Huddersfield in 1958.
And no Leeds player had scored five tries in a league match since Drew Turnbull against Batley in 1955.
McGuire, who scored all five untouched by the Widnes defence, raced clear at the top of the Super League charts and equalled the competition's individual try-scoring record to ensure sluggish Rhinos ended the first half of the season on a high.
At 21 he is still learning, but on this showing McGuire is the outstanding young talent in the British game - and national boss David Waite will find it virtually impossible to keep him out of his Tri-Nations squad.
McGuire's armoury of skills includes an eye for a gap, superb footwork, electric pace, great balance and instinctive support play - and all were in evidence last night.
Lowly Widnes were leading 12-8 when McGuire opened his account in scintillating style, accepting Dave Furner's pass from the base of a scrum - forced when Nicky Royle spilled McGuire's kick - and leaving the defence flat-footed on a wonderful, arcing run to the line.
That was on 34 minutes and moments later Ryan Bailey popped the ball out to Richard Mathers, he burst clear and McGuire was in support to finish off.
McGuire finished brilliantly from Rob Burrow's offload 19 minutes into the second half, before supporting acting-captain Keith Senior's powerful break and claiming the inside pass.
The stand-off completed his five-try haul eight minutes from time when he was in the right place at the right time to take the pass after a surging run from impressive substitute Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
And to prove he is not just a try scorer, McGuire also provided the final pass from which Ali Lauitiiti stormed over to celebrate his first start for Rhinos, on the final play of the first period.
McGuire may not exactly have saved Rhinos from embarrassment, but he certainly made the evening a lot more comfortable than it may otherwise have been.
With in-form duo Kevin Sinfield and Andrew Dunemann both rested, Rhinos dropped well below the standard they set in the previous game's win over Bradford, particularly in defence.
Vikings' total of 24 points may have been half Rhinos' tally, but only St Helens have scored more against the league leaders this year.
Missing key man Jules O'Neill, Widnes scored the first try after just 85 seconds - before Leeds had handled the ball - led for two spells in the opening period and twice threatened an unlikely comeback after the break.
Widnes' young stand-off Stephen Myler was overshadowed by McGuire, but he set up two of their tries and kicked four goals, while Chris Giles finished strongly for a second-half brace.
The villain of the piece was referee Ian Smith. In a season when penalty counts have been kept refreshingly low, he awarded 21 - including five against the team in possession for not playing the ball properly.
Smith seemed to think it was him the fans had come to watch, rather than the likes of McGuire, and his fussy performance made the game a disjointed, stop-start affair.
How many tries McGuire would have scored in a more free-flowing encounter is anyone's guess.
Rhinos had the game won by half-time when they led 26-12, but only after three tries in the final 10 minutes had turned things around.
Widnes got a flying start when Simon Finnigan ran through to touch down Myler's grubber kick and they added a second try through Royle, when Troy Wozniak's pass rebounded off Marcus Mai.
A typical defence-splitting Burrow run set up Mark Calderwood for Rhinos' first try and - after Myler had landed a penalty - the winger added a second from a wonderful pass by Lauitiiti, who is already becoming a South Stand hero.
McGuire's first two and Lauitiiti's powerful touchdown - plus the first three of Dave Furner's five goals - gave Leeds their comfortable half-time advantage, but Giles cut the gap soon afterwards when he brilliantly beat Calderwood to Myler's high cross kick.
Moments later Burrow burst past two defenders to get Rhinos back on track, before McGuire scored Leeds' final three tries of the game, the last of them - his 21st of the season and 20th in Super League - converted by Burrow.
McGuire's hat-trick score was followed by Widnes' final touchdown, an exciting touchline dash by Giles after a Leeds error on halfway.
tetley's super league
leeds rhinos 48
Tries: McGuire 5, Calderwood 2, Lauitiiti, Burrow.
Goals: Furner 5/8, Burrow 1/1.
Richard Mathers: Good again 8
Mark Calderwood: Quality finishing 7
Francis Cummins: Good runs 7
Keith Senior: Strong late on 7
Marcus Bai: Made hard yards 7
Danny McGuire: Phenomenal 10
Rob Burrow: Electric darts 8
Wayne McDonald: Ran hard 7
Matt Diskin: Typically effective 7
Barrie McDermott: Strong 7
Ali Lauitiiti: Touches of class 8
Willie Poching: On and off 7
Dave Furner: Steady 7
Chris Feather: Valuable contribution 7
Jamie Jones-Buchanan: Excellent return 8
Ryan Bailey: One clever pass 7
Danny Ward: Finding way back 7
WIDNES VIKINGS 24
Tries: Giles 2, Finnigan, Royle.
Goals: Myler 4/5.
Deon Bird, Nicky Royle, Aaron Moule, Adam Hughes, Chris Giles, Simon Finnigan, Stephen Myler, David Mills, Shane Millard, Julian O'Neill, Troy Wozniak, Andy Hay, Daniel Frame. Subs: Craig Weston, Stephen Rowlands, Steve McCurrie, Andy Hobson.
Referee: Ian Smith (Oldham).
Penalties: Rhinos 10, Vikings 11 (half-time 5-3).
Scoring: First half: 0-6 Finnigan try, Myler conversion; 4-6 Calderwood try; 4-8 Myler penalty; 8-8 Calderwood try; 8-12 Royle try; 14-12 McGuire try, Furner conv; 20-12 McGuire try, Furner conv; 26-12 Lauitiiti try, Furner conv. Second half: 26-18 Giles try, Myler conv; 30-18 Burrow try; 36-18 McGuire try, Furner conv; 36-22 Giles try, Myler conv; 42-24 McGuire try, Furner conv; 48-24 McGuire try, Burrow conv.