LEEDS RHINOS’ coach Brian McDermott says past experience means his side will not let the emotion of club legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow playing their last Headingley game disrupt their attempt to reach another Super League Grand Final.
The brilliant duo will pull on the blue and amber for potentially the last time tonight as Leeds seek to beat Hull FC to claim a place in next week’s showpiece occasion at Old Trafford.
Captain McGuire is moving to Hull KR next season while hooker Rob Burrow is retiring, the 34-year-olds both having played more than 400 games for Rhinos and starred in all seven of the club’s Grand Final wins.
Everyone at the West Yorkshire club wants to see them off as champions once more, just as Leeds did with fellow icons Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai during their 2015 treble-winning campaign.
“There is a fairytale ending for those two and we need to beat Hull on Friday for that to happen,” McDermott told The Yorkshire Post, their semi-final rivals intent on adding a maiden Super League title to the Challenge Cup they retained at Wembley last month.
“But we have experience through this when Peacock and Sinfield retired a couple of years ago and everyone was trying to make it out to be about them.
They beat us in the Challenge Cup semi-final. But that was a while ago now. Hull are playing a little bit different. We’re a little different.Leeds Rhinos’ Brian McDermott
“It wasn’t. They said at the time it wasn’t. They stood in front of the players and said, ‘don’t make it about us. Let’s just go out there and play well’.
“Yes, it’s a nice ‘to do’ thing for them (McGuire/Burrow).
“And if there’s three minutes left on the clock, we’re four points in front and we need to defend Hull’s continuous possession for those last three minutes, I’m sure in that scenario Mags and Rob may have a bearing on the desire of the team to keep getting off the deck to play.
“But, at the start of the game, you take the emotion out of it; you nail your game plan and try to be as good as the team can be.”
Leeds will certainly need to be good, arguably better than at any point this season.
Admittedly, they finished second, five points clear of third-placed Hull, who have a wretched recent record against the Rhinos and have not won at Headingley since 2007.
However, the East Yorkshire club delivered a stunning master class to beat Leeds 43-24 in the Challenge Cup semi-final two months ago, a stellar display Lee Radford’s side hope to reprise this evening.
McDermott admitted that defeat – “we weren’t that bad, Hull just nailed it” – has been discussed in the build-up to tonight’s game.
He said: “It gets mentioned. It’s not a big factor, but I won’t tell you a lie and say we never mention it. Of course we do; they beat us in the Challenge Cup semi-final.
“But that was a while ago now. Hull are playing a little bit different. We’re a little different.
“Both teams have a different momentum behind them to that time.
“You can’t take a blueprint of that game and say, ‘let’s just change a few things’ as we’re further down the track now, the weather’s different and the team is as well.
“It’s a really exciting time. Now the season’s done and dusted, we can look forward to this knockout game and it’s brilliant.
“We know we will get tested by Hull and if we don’t win we’re gone; that’s the end of the season.
“It’s a really harsh environment we play in on Friday, but it’s what we’ve played 30 rounds to do.”
Leeds, of course, were in the Qualifiers last year, having spent most of the campaign near the bottom of Super League.
Their response in 2017 has been excellent even if they remained in the shadows of Castleford’s eye-catching charge to the League Leaders’ Shield, suffering some painful losses earlier on.
“From some early-season form there’s been a huge turnaround in how we play, how we defend, our attitude to some big games and our attitude to adversity, so it’s been a really positive season,” continued McDermott.
“But we want to win something as well; there’s an achievement in itself to be 80 minutes away from another Grand Final, but nobody is going to read that in the history books.
“They will only read about the winners and that’s what we’re about.”
Hull lost at this stage 12 months ago to eventual champions Wigan Warriors and they have still not reached a Grand Final since their solitary appearance in 2006.
Leeds’s greater experience could tell, but McDermott argued: “I think Hull have enough experience on the big stage just recently.
“They have two Challenge Cup final victories – they have more experience in finals than we have over the last two seasons. In recent history, they’re better than us. I’m not going to go in thinking we’ll be okay because of what happened four, five or six years ago.”
Interview with Hull’s Albert Kelly: Page 23