HE IS no longer one of the fastest players in Super League and his days as a prolific try-scorer are behind him, but captain Danny McGuire remains a huge influence on Leeds Rhinos.
His try in the final few minutes secured a precious win over Catalans Dragons in Perpignan which keeps Leeds in touch with competition leaders Castleford Tigers.
It is no coincidence Leeds’ improved form this season has come with McGuire back to full fitness after an injury-ravaged 2016.
At 34 and out of contract this autumn, a big decision is looming and resolving their half-back situation must be one of Leeds’ priorities as they plan for the future.
But McGuire can yet have a major say. Rhinos have looked most threatening this season when Joel Moon, who was at centre against Catalans, has been in the half-backs alongside McGuire.
On Saturday, it was the old firm of McGuire and Rob Burrow. The former set up Leeds’ opening try after just two minutes, but then – like most of his teammates – he began to feel the heat.
The visitors failed to cope with Catalans’ lively ball movement and were fortunate to trail only 16-12 at half-time.
When the French side extended their lead to 22-12 early in the second period there looked to be no way back for Leeds.
But, in tandem with Australian forward Adam Cuthbertson, McGuire revived Rhinos and sparked a stunning fightback.
His pass sent Cuthbertson striding in with 15 minutes left and, in the next set, Burrow got over at the corner and Liam Sutcliffe landed a magnificent touchline goal, one of five from as many attempts, to edge Leeds ahead.
Tony Gigot booted a 72nd-minute penalty goal – his third successful kick – to level the scores, but then Cuthbertson got Rhinos back on the front foot and McGuire dummied over from close range to win it.
It was more than Leeds deserved over the 80 minutes and Catalans were severely hampered by injuries to Greg Bird, Louis Anderson and Brayden Wiliame.
But Rhinos’ spirit and will-to-win were encouraging signs, particularly after the dismal loss to lowly Huddersfield Giants in their previous game and they were magnificent in the final quarter.
Coach Brian McDermott admitted he feared his weary side were out if it after Catalans went two scores ahead in the second half.
“Across the board, there was some real tenacity out there and some real grit,” reflected McDermott.
“I thought Adam Cuthbertson was outstanding. He was hugely influential in the final 20 minutes, but Danny McGuire maintained calm and had a good control over most of it.”
After Sutcliffe’s opening try, Catalans responded with touchdowns by Anderson, Julian Bousquet and Wiliame, but Stevie Ward cut the gap on the stroke of half-time.
Remi Casty scored the home side’s second-half touchdown and Gigot crossed in each half only to be denied by video referee Robert Hicks.
Missing England duo Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall and Mitch Garbutt, who was on paternity leave, Leeds gave a competition debut to 18-year-old prop Mikolaj Oledzki, who became the second Polish-born player to appear in Super League, after Paris player Grzegorz Kacala in 1996.
Catalans Dragons head coach Laurent Frayssinous said: “I think that there were two forward passes in their build up to their two tries around 65 minutes.
“Unfortunately, those two tries cost us. I am having the same conversations every week about how we don’t get the 50-50 calls, today we didn’t get the 60-40 calls.”
Catalans Dragons: Gigot, Duport, Thornley, Wiliame, Yaha, Albert, Myler, Moa, Aiton, Casty, Anderson, Garcia, Bird. Substitutes: Bousquet, Bosc, Simon, Margalet.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Moon, Handley, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Mullally, Delaney, Oledzki. Unused Lilley.
Referee: J Smith (Warrington).