Old Trafford glory would be the greatest achievement for Rhinos

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Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington reckons winning tonight’s Grand Final will rank as the biggest such achievement in Super League history.

The West Yorkshire club have long established themselves as a force in the summer era given their unparalleled success at this time of year.

Leeds have won five Grand Finals, more than any other club, but Hetherington feels defeating sizeable favourites Warrington Wolves this evening will serve as the most notable yet.

They lifted the title from the unprecedented position of fifth last term and have surged to Old Trafford again from that same relatively lowly spot.

That, in itself, is a staggering feat, but Hetherington told the Yorkshire Post: “I think this will be bigger still because when you are champions, the following year is that much harder still.

“When Wigan won it in 2010, both their coach and chairman commented how much of a step up the next season was in terms of intensity.

“Every week was a battle. We’ve faced that too and now gone onto reach the final again from fifth again. But we’ve grown accustomed to it.”

Wolves, despite their favourites tag, are seeking a first league title in 57 years and are the first new name at Old Trafford since Hull FC lost to St Helens in 2006.

Leeds and Saints have played out four of the last five title-deciders while Wigan and Bradford Bulls are the only others to have won Super League since the Grand Final was introduced in 1998.

Warrington, though, could quickly become only the third club in the Super League era to win the Grand Final and Challenge Cup in the same season.

They are coached by Tony Smith who, in 2004, led Leeds to their first championship in 32 years and added another in 2007 before leaving to become Great Britain chief.

For Leeds’s chances tonight, the midfield trio of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow is seen as pivotal.

Of course, Rhinos were missing the England scrum-half McGuire when they lost the Challenge Cup Final 35-18 to Warrington just six weeks ago.

He also sat out last week’s epic play-off win at Wigan due to suspension but seeing the three experienced players back together – each has played in all five of their Old Trafford victories dating back to the first in 2004 – will instil plenty of confidence.

Hetherington admitted: “I don’t think we’ll have another three like them. When they are finished they will be remembered in the same way as Hanley, Edwards and Gregory at Wigan and Hardisty, Hepworth and Reilly at Castleford plus Shoebottom, Seabourne and Batten here at Leeds.

“All great sides have a crucial spine to their team and they’ve been ours for so long now.

“But it has also got to be remembered we went to Wembley to face Warrington last time missing McGuire and Brent Webb.

“Zak Hardaker has come in and done a great job in place of Webby at full-back but they are very different types of players.

“There’s no doubt Webby and McGuire deliver a lot of our strike so when both were missing it left a lot of pressure on Kev’s shoulders.

“He’ll have McGuire back now and that will help at Old Trafford.”

Hetherington continued: “It’s probably got the makings of a classic final.

“The weather is looking good which hasn’t always been the case but I still think – for all people are apparently fed up of Leeds playing Saints at Old Trafford – every year has produced a really good game.

“Last season was really intense and the Grand Final is designed to bring up the quality.

“We’ve got two exceptional teams now who are both desperate to win.”

Meanwhile, the Leeds chief executive yesterday stuck with his annual ritual of enjoying afternoon tea at Harvey Nichols in Manchester – at the behest of head coach Brian McDermott.

He explained: “We always train at Headingley in the morning and then drive over to Manchester for the afternoon when the players have some free time.

“I’ve got a bit of a routine going. In 2007, myself and Tony Smith headed out for a cream tea at Harvey Nics, then the following year Brian McClennan did the same and in 2009 a few staff came too.

“Last year, Brian McDermott had heard about it and so he came out there with the other coaches and some players as well.

“It’s got bigger and bigger. We had a rugby union game tonight (Friday) with Leeds Carnegie but Brian Mac said we can’t change a winning habit – so I’ve been along again.”

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk

Grand Final preview: 
Pages 6-7.

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