HULL KR’S Danny McGuire admits his long-time Leeds Rhinos team-mate Kevin Sinfield has potentially put his legacy at risk by taking on the top job at Emerald Headingley – but expects him to eventually flourish.
The duo, as part of the club’s ‘Golden Generation’, helped Leeds to seven Super League titles before Golden Boot winner Sinfield moved on at the end of 2015 and then McGuire 18 months ago.
Sinfield, of course, returned as director of rugby last summer and has faced a difficult start to life in the job.
Leeds sit bottom as they head to a Hull KR side tonight who have former Great Britain half-back McGuire back in the side after missing their last two games with a groin strain.
Rhinos earned a much-needed victory a week ago when, with only their second win this year, they pipped Castleford Tigers 21-20 in Golden Point extra-time to relieve some pressure.
McGuire expects former England captain Sinfield to turn things around but said: “It can (backfire) and that’s the chance you take especially if you go into coaching.
“The legacy you have built and the persona and reputation you’ve taken 20 years to build as a player, it can be soon diminished after a couple of months looking after a team.
“But, as long as you feel you’re doing the right thing, you back your judgement and think you’re doing your best for the club, then you can only do your best.
“I’m sure that’s Kev’s aim. He loves Leeds and that’s his passion. It might just take a bit of time for him to get on top of that.
“He’s always had ambitions to do this (director of rugby role). I don’t think he’s ever wanted to coach and be a front man for the team.
The legacy you have built and the persona and reputation you’ve taken 20 years to build as a player, it can be soon diminished after a couple of months looking after a team.Danny McGuire
“He sees himself behind the scenes and is a massive figurehead for the club.
“He’s really well respected in the game for what he achieved and what a great player he was.
“He’s still finding his feet in this job; he’ll tell you himself how it is a tough one trying to keep a lot of people happy – fans, money, salary cap and all stuff like that.
“But if anyone can do it I reckon Kev will.”
In his own first season in charge, Rhinos coach Dave Furner – who won the 2004 Grand Final alongside McGuire and Sinfield – is seeking to start building some momentum this evening.
Leeds are without banned England scrum-half Richie Myler so Tui Lolohea – the Tonga stand-off signed from Wests Tigers over the winter – is expected to be recalled after being dropped for the last two matches.
McGuire said of Lolohea – who faces a battle with Callum McLelland for the shirt: “He’s struggled at times this year and found himself out of the team but he’s a good player, skilful and obviously really talented.
“He’ll be wanting to prove a point won’t he, as most players do when left out, and with (Konrad) Hurrell on that left side as well it’s a pretty formidable edge.
“We’ll have to be really good and look after their key players.
“They have spent quite a bit of money and brought in some marquee signings (Hurrell and Trent Merrin) which went against the policy of the club.
“Leeds were never really happy to do that but I suppose at times, when you see Warrington, St Helens and Wigan spending money on big players, they then probably have to as well.
“It puts a bit more pressure on the team.”
Tenth-placed Rovers have lost their last three games and know another defeat would see Leeds go above them.
KR are one of four teams all on just six points so far – yet they remain only four points adrift of Castleford in third.
McGuire, then, realises the importance of this contest.
“It is big,” said the 36-year-old.
“I know it’s only the early part of the season – we’re only eight, nine games in – but it is big.
“If we win we can push ourselves up into top-five contention. Most sides are beating each other at the moment.
“If we can go on a run, string a few wins together, we can find ourselves fighting at the top of the table. Warrington, St Helens are looking pretty strong but there’s an opportunity there with third, fourth, fifth looking pretty open.
“And we’ll have no excuses; we have nearly a full-strength side.”
Indeed, Tim Sheens has arguably his strongest crop of players to choose from; England prop Robbie Mulhern also from injury taking the former Leeds contingent in KR’s squad to six alongside Jimmy Keinhorst, Shaun Lunt, Weller Hauraki and Mitch Garbutt.
Leeds hope to give a debut to Wellington Albert – the Papua New Guinea prop on trial at the club – in the absence of injured front-row Tom Holroyd.