HAVING met royalty this week, Danny McGuire is now ready to help Leeds Rhinos reclaim their crown in Super League.
The veteran half-back spent time with HRH Prince Harry on Thursday as, in his first official engagement as the RFL’s new patron, the Queen’s grandson visited the Sky Try Rugby League Festival at Headingley.
He is, of course, well-known for his long-running affinity with the England rugby union side.
However, McGuire, who returns from a one-game-ban for tomorrow’s crucial top-four clash at Salford Red Devils, told The Yorkshire Post: “He seems really passionate about sport in general.
“He is a really good ambassador for rugby league. It was great to meet him.
“He’s a really nice, genuine guy. I was a bit nervous initially.
“We had a few things we had to say like ‘your Royal Highness’ but I never got chance.
“He just came over, shook my hand and started chatting away. It wasn’t what I expected.
“It was a really enjoyable experience and great to see so many kids enjoying themselves out on the pitch.
“For many it was a first taste of playing rugby league and to meet the Prince, too, was brilliant.”
It is back to more routine business now, though, as Leeds head to Salford who were above the West Yorkshire side in second at the start of this round but only by virtue of points difference.
Although Castleford, with a 10-point lead at the top, seem destined to claim the League Leaders’ Shield, even with nine games remaining, the battle for second place and a home semi-final certainly remains fierce.
Unfancied Salford have emerged as the biggest surprise story in 2017 and McGuire, who has won seven Grand Finals with Leeds, is full of praise for them.
“Every time I have watched them this year they have been very impressive,” said the former England international.
“They have a really strong forward pack but they like to promote the ball as well; they want to throw the ball around and really challenge your edges.”
Australian stand-off Robert Lui was dazzling when Salford beat Huddersfield Giants on Sunday and McGuire conceded: “For me, he’s been one of the best players in the competition this year.
“He’s really strong, has a good brain, is good with the ball in hand but is a good runner, too.
“We’ll have to keep a close eye on him. It’s a huge fixture for us in what is a crucial next month with three games left before the split and the Challenge Cup semi-final.”
McGuire, meanwhile, returns to the side after being suspended for swearing at referee Robert Hicks during Leeds’s recent home loss to Castleford.
He has since apologised for his actions on social media – the offensive language was heard live as the game was televised – and yesterday added: “It was one of those things that happen.
“There was some frustration there and it was in the heat of the moment.
“I am disappointed with how I reacted but I am that sort of player; I’m competitive, like to win and always want to do my best for the club.
“It’s gone now, though, and I’ve done my time.
“I can’t wait to get back out there with the lads on Sunday.”
Jordan Lilley was recalled from a loan spell at Bradford Bulls to fill in for McGuire against St Helens last week and the 20-year-old performed well to help steer Leeds to a 24-22 victory.
It was announced yesterday that the homegrown player had signed a new three-year deal at Headingley, clearly forming part of Brian McDermott’s long-term plans with former England No7 Richie Myler also arriving from Catalans Dragons in 2018.
McGuire, 35, has yet to confirm if he will play on beyond the end of this season but he said: “Jordan was really composed. His kicking was very good and he’s developing nicely. He is still young and still has lots to work on but he’s got a great future with the club if he keeps turning up performances like that.”
Liam Sutcliffe is out with a leg injury for Rhinos tomorrow, while full-back Ashton Golding will face a late fitness on a hamstring injury. Salford coach Ian Watson recalls hooker Josh Wood in place of Logan Tomkins.