IT was not the most auspicious of starts to Jamie Peacock’s big game.
With around 90 seconds on the clock yesterday, the garlanded Leeds Rhinos prop did what has been second nature to him for fully a decade at Headingley, taking in a carry at the start of yet another battle.
But this time, with a record-breaking 11,608 watching as part of the ex-Great Britain captain’s superbly-attended testimonial versus former club Bradford Bulls, he inexplicably dropped the ball with no one near him.
Peacock, one of the sport’s all-time true warriors, was able to see the funny side as he raised a wry smile, but any battered opponents hoping the 37-year-old will be giving them an easier time in 2015 should think again.
He has been runner-up for Man of Steel as Super League’s leading player in each of the last two seasons and it would be no surprise if the ageless forward went one better in what will be his final campaign of a stunning career.
Having recovered from that initial faux pas to deliver his usual steely stint, Leeds went on to record a routine 34-14 victory over their visitors who, of course, rather than Grand Final winners as they were when Peacock left them at the end of 2005, are now actually preparing for life in the Championship.
But what about that fumble?
“I was a bit overwhelmed at the start, if I’m honest,” Peacock admitted.
“I thought I was a bit rusty and I had it in my head I was going to knock on and that’s what happened. The irony of it all.
“It’s been a surreal kind of week, though, and an amazing day.
“I’m unbelievably humbled by everything that has gone on and want to thank all those who have played a part.
“I’ve had some special days in rugby league and been very fortunate, but this is definitely right up there with them all.
“Now I’m just looking forward to the new season. We’ve got some good things happening here and we played some good football, especially in the first half.”
The Rhinos had, in finishing a disappointing sixth last term, been accused of being too straight-laced but, if the first half here is anything to go by, they will not be so cautious in the season ahead.
They looked to promote the ball at every opportunity and there was some real elan about the manner in which they did so to build up a 24-0 interval lead.
England centre Kallum Watkins, who scored two tries, was particularly sharp while Danny McGuire and Kylie Leuluai got their other scores, Kevin Sinfield improving each time.
Bradford were more competitive at the start of the second period and were rewarded with tries of their own via wingers Ryan Shaw and Chris Ulugia.
However, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, the England second-row who could be used more as a prop this season in readiness for Peacock’s eventual retirement, surged over just after the hour and Joel Moon added another before Lee Gaskell got a consolation for the visitors.
There have been some real legends awarded testimonials at Leeds in recent years – Sinfield, Keith Senior, McGuire and Rob Burrow to name just four – but yesterday’s attendance approached double that of the previous best in the Super League era, the 6,363 that turned out to see Francis Cummins’s game versus Huddersfield Giants in 2004.
It is a sign of the respect in which Peacock is held, not just at Headingley but throughout the game, since he first burst onto the scene with Bradford back in 1999.
No player has appeared in more than his seven World Club Challenges nor has anyone bettered his record of 10 Grand Finals, eight of which he actually won, three with Bradford and five with Rhinos.
Thus it was a deserving occasion and, as he told the fans out on the pitch afterwards: “One of the reasons I’ve kept on playing is the atmosphere here. It’s just second to none.”
Ditto the player himself.