GOD bless Danny McGuire and his seemingly innate desire to excite.
Just as Leeds Rhinos and London Broncos threatened to take part in one of the blandest games in some time, admittedly hamstrung by awful drizzling rain, the England scrum-half came up with a little magic to snap everyone out of their slumber and stretch his side’s unbeaten run to five matches.
The champions were just 8-0 in front at the break last night and, in fairness, any lead was a good one in such conditions.
But the most excitement perhaps came at the half-time hooter and a fleeting sighting of Yorkshire and England Test cricketer Jonny Bairstow as he retired from his seat in the North Stand.
Maybe McGuire, traditionally one of Super League’s most exciting protagonists, knew the crowd needed livening up as he produced a flamboyant pass back through his legs early in the second period.
It was the sort of outrageous showmanship which might see cocky youngsters ordered to do 10 press-ups as penance at amateur clubs throughout the city and Leeds coach Brian McDermott might not have appreciated it too much either, especially in this weather.
Yet in this instance, the extravagance paid dividends as it set up position for Kevin Sinfield to find Joel Moon on the next play and the Australian centre exposed the merest of slips in the London defence to stretch over for his second try.
It eased any lingering doubt for the West Yorkshire club who, with McGuire popping up everywhere, duly pushed on to ease home and move up to third.
McGuire – Leeds’s most threatening player all evening – was at it again with the tricks in the next set after Moon scored, but this time he was forced to spectacularly juggle to avoid a knock-on.
Again it was timely, though, as when Leeds completed the set, ex-Hull KR hooker Ben Fisher followed through to hit Sinfield late after he kicked downfield and the penalty saw them attacking once more in the London 20.
From there, Paul McShane slid a kick through from dummy half for England full-back Zak Hardaker to score his first try since last September. Game over.
Prop Brad Singleton made only his third appearance in three years for Leeds, coming on after 52 minutes having sat on the bench unused in the win against Warrington a week earlier.
Just three minutes later the young prop burst through off Sinfield’s pass and showed great composure to await support from McGuire who deservedly got his own score between the posts for the captain to maintain his 100 per cent record with the boot.
Alex Hurst did brilliantly to deny the speeding Rob Burrow as the hooker arced towards the corner and it was, fittingly, the full-back who finally gave London some reward for their efforts after he broke Carl Ablett’s tackle in the 73rd minute, Michael Witt converting having also produced the initial 40/20.
However, Sinfield picked up his own ricocheting kick to find Kallum Watkins in the penultimate minute and efficient Leeds move on to Friday’s Challenge Cup meeting with Castleford Tigers in confident mood.
London – with just two wins all season – were smart enough, their ball control to be commended in the first half especially, but they offered little attacking threat.
Craig Gower’s excellent kicking game kept turning Leeds but, that aside, the visitors were limited to one breakaway from Chris Melling which ended with the player kicking hopefully ahead.
On the one occasion London did get the ball wide to the obvious threat of 14-try winger Kieran Dixon, he was intelligently ushered back inside by Watkins into the enveloping arms of a ready and waiting Hardaker, who dragged the young upstart to the ground.
Leeds, meanwhile, had more of the attacking positions, were suitably dogged and forceful in the middle and continued to try to test their opponents.
Admittedly, there was little reward. Ablett slipped Watkins away on the outside of Dixon but his kick infield for McGuire was mopped up by the cover, and when McGuire did escape himself after a clever one-two down the centre with the busy Ryan Hall he unsuccessfully tried beating full-back Hurst when Moon was the easier option.
Ian Kirke made an impact off the bench, springing one off-load and then coming up with a crunching hit, but Leeds had been restricted to Moon’s third-minute opener.
London lost Chad Randall in the opening seconds after their influential Australian hooker was chaired off with what looked like a pulled hamstring.
When his replacement Tommy Lee kicked out on the full soon after, Leeds immediately punished them as Hardaker made the initial surge and then Moon dived on to McGuire’s perfectly-weighted grubber.
Sinfield added his first conversion and, later, a penalty, but they required McGuire’s impish brilliance to really kick-start
Ex-Rhinos boss Dean Bell was in the crowd on a scouting mission in his current role as New Zealand Warriors director of rugby.
He may well have been watching the promising youngster Dixon but – if McGuire was 10 years younger, heck, even now – there is no doubt he would be the one marked for the NRL.
Leeds: Hardaker; Watkins, Ablett, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Ward, Achurch, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Clarkson, Singleton, McShane, Kirke.
London: Hurst; Melling, Grady, Sarginson, Dixon; Witt, Gower; Kaufusi, Randall, Wheeldon, Bailey, Rodney, Lovell. Substitutes: Cook, Lee, Bryant, Fisher.
Referee: G Stokes (Wigan).