Grand Final: Why McGuire snubbed Saracens to forge legendary status at Leeds Rhinos

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AS HE prepares to pull on the blue and amber jersey for the 424th and final time, Leeds Rhinos captain Danny McGuire has revealed he turned down an offer to switch to rugby union when his Headingley career was still blossoming.

The ex-Great Britain star brings an end to his remarkable time with his hometown club tonight, fittingly by leading them out against Castleford Tigers as he seeks to claim an eighth Grand Final winners ring.

Departing Leeds pair Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow

Departing Leeds pair Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow

McGuire, who debuted for Rhinos in 2001, moves on to Hull KR next season but, first, hopes to sign off in the glory to which he has become so largely accustomed.

However, ahead of the sold-out Old Trafford finale, he admitted that a major Premiership side wanted to sign him not long after a try-scoring appearance in the 2004 Grand Final helped Leeds lift a first league title since 1972 and start a period of unrivalled success.

McGuire, 34, said: “I had one opportunity to go to Saracens a long time ago, about 2005, but I was always happy here.

“It sounded nice; whenever somebody’s interested in you it gives your ego a bit of a massage.

“But I have always loved playing for the club and representing my home city as well.

“I’ve never really taken anything like that seriously until this year.

“There was a couple of little opportunities NRL-wise but never anything I’ve followed. I have no regrets.”

Rightly so. Allied to those many Grand Final wins are two Challenge Cup successes, three World Club Challenge victories and a trio of League Leaders’ Shields as well.

Throw in the fact the prolific half-back is Super League’s all-time record try-scorer with 236 touchdowns and you can see why McGuire can rest easy.

Like all dynasties, though, it is interesting to ponder how much success Leeds would have enjoyed if, in a sliding doors moment, he had made that cross-code move.

Granted, it has not all been plain sailing. Dark days have been rare but McGuire did have to show his fighting quality to help drag Rhinos through last season when they floundered near bottom for much of a miserable campaign before their return to normality in 2017.

It had been his first season as captain after replacing the iconic Kevin Sinfield following their 2015 treble glory but McGuire made only 13 appearances and did not even muster a try.

“Last year we were pretty dreadful, for a number of reasons,” he recalled. “Personally it was injury-ridden and at times 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.”

Alongside McGuire ever since his debut year has been Rob Burrow, who, before his switch to hooker in 2011, had formed one of the most exciting half-back partnerships in the sport’s history.

Burrow, 35, retires tonight but McGuire maintained: “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’ve 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 announced in July he would take up a two-year deal with Hull KR in 2018 and was, then, pleased to see they duly secured promotion back to Super League from the Championship.

He continued: “I probably thought I would play all my career at Leeds. I never thought about going anywhere else.

“There’s been a couple of opportunities here and there, but never any I’ve taken seriously.

“I’ve been really happy, but I think for myself and the club it’s the right time.

“It’s the right time for the club to start looking to the future and for myself a new challenge. I am really excited about that.

“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.”

McGuire admitted there has been a sense of earning redemption this season. “There is a real steely determination this year to play well and get back up where Leeds deserve to be,” he said.

“We went to Cas in March and got 66 points put past us. That was a pretty testing time and you do question yourself.

“But the good thing is we’ve kept tight with each other. We’ve got a really good set of lads and a really committed bunch.

“While at times we’ve probably not played as well as we’d have liked this year, nine and a half times out of 10 I’ve come off the pitch thinking the lads have given everything.

“Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.”