HE has featured in some of the famous ground’s most memorable moments over the past 17 years, but today’s vital showdown at Headingley will be a new experience for Danny McGuire.
It will be the third time the Leeds Rhinos legend has lined up for Hull Kingston Rovers against his former club, but his debut at Emerald Headingley as a visiting player.
It is a great venue to play at; there’s a lot of work going on and it won’t be the same atmosphere, but hopefully the Rovers fans will get over in numbers and make it a really good atmosphere.Danny McGuire
The stakes could not be much higher with Leeds having won their opening two fixtures in the Qualifiers, with Rovers just two points behind after their tense victory at Toronto Wolfpack last time out.
Both teams know a win today would be a giant step towards preserving their Super League status and for McGuire, who is keen to see his past and present clubs competing at the highest level next season, it will be a “strange” experience in more ways than one.
“I didn’t think this year I would get an opportunity to play at Headingley, with the league game against Leeds being at Elland Road,” he reflected.
“But it is what it is, it will be good to go back and see all the familiar faces and it should be a good game, hopefully.
“I have still got a lot of good mates there and I am sure we’ll have a bit of banter, but it’ll all be in good spirits. Both sets of players will be wanting to do their best. I am looking forward to it and am excited by it.”
McGuire will be spared the experience of walking into the changing room opposite the one he occupied with distinction from his debut in 2001 until last year when he bowed out by captaining Rhinos to their – and his – eighth Super League crown.
The old North Stand was demolished at the end of last season and new structures are being built on either side of the ground, so Headingley will look much different to the last time he played there.
“I’ve been a couple of times,” he said. “I went to the Toulouse game a few weeks ago so I’ve seen the new stands and how they are coming on.
“It looks awesome and it’ll be brilliant when it’s finished.
“It is a great venue to play at; there’s a lot of work going on and it won’t be the same atmosphere, but hopefully the Rovers fans will get over in numbers and make it a really good atmosphere.”
McGuire admitted he would not have wanted his first game back at Headingley to be in the Qualifiers, with both sides fighting for their Super League lives, but the situation will make it as big as any fixture he has played there.
“Where both teams are is probably a fair reflection of their season,” he conceded.
“We’ve had some really good performances and some not so good ones.
“Leeds started the season pretty well and they were up there for a while, but a lot of injuries and things out of their control dictated where they finished.
“Both teams are under a bit of pressure in the middle-eights and it is a pretty crucial game.
“The win in Toronto was important for us because if we’d lost that, after losing to Salford, we’d have been in a tough position, but getting a win this weekend would be brilliant.
“Having played arguably the three toughest teams, to get two wins would put us in a good position, but if they win they’ll be three from three and in good shape.
“That’s why it’s a big game, there is a lot resting on it for both teams. It will be tough, but we are looking pretty strong and I think we can go there confident, knowing we are playing against a great team.”
Rovers led 10-0 in the first half of their 20-11 defeat at Elland Road and were 8-0 ahead in the fixture at Craven Park before Leeds clawed their way back to win 20-18.
McGuire recalled: “We were probably the better team in the game at our place, we just could not convert a few chances.
“We played pretty well at Elland Road as well.
“Over the last couple of weeks we probably feel we haven’t done ourselves justice.
“We had a really good spell for five or six weeks when we were playing some really good stuff, but the last couple of weeks have been a bit shaky.
“This is a really good opportunity to put it right, playing against a great team.”
McGuire is the fourth-highest try scorer in Leeds’ history, with 267, but has yet to cross the whitewash against his old club. So how will he react if he breaks that duck today?
“I’ll be happy deep down, but I won’t celebrate,” he pledged. “I am not getting over the tryline much nowadays, but as long as we win that’s the main thing.”