Video - Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos: Danny McGuire back to lead Rhinos' revival

ALMOST two months after a frustrating false start, Danny McGuire hopes to begin his reign as Leeds Rhinos captain for real tonight and start inspiring the faltering champions.

Leeds Rhinos' Danny McGuire. Picture: Tony Johnson

The former England half-back was honoured replacing legendary Kevin Sinfield as the club’s leader when his long-time team-mate, after raising a seventh Super League title last October, switched to Yorkshire Carnegie .

However, McGuire suffered a knee injury barely half-an-hour into the first game of the season against Warrington Wolves in February that immediately sidelined him. Then, when readied to return against St Helens on Friday, the 33-year-old strained a calf muscle in the penultimate training session before that contest.

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He hopes, though, to at last be able to line up at Castleford Tigers this evening as Leeds – who have lost four of the six games McGuire has missed – attempt to revive their campaign.

Leeds Rhinos' Danny McGuire. Picture: Tony Johnson

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he admitted: “To be honest, my season hasn’t really started yet. I’ve had plenty of ups in my career so this is just a bit of a disappointing time especially having got the captaincy and everything that comes with that.

“Getting injured straight away makes everything tough to take. Everything was going fine until the final five minutes of last Wednesday’s session and I just pulled up with a calf. That sometimes happens when coming back from knee problems – you twinge something else.

“But I’m pretty seasoned in handling ups and downs. I try not to take things to heart, just realise I have to be positive and that always helps the recovery.

“So, although it’s annoying at times, you just have to keep positive and, hopefully, I’ll be back out on the field as quickly as possible.

Leeds Rhinos' Danny McGuire. Picture: Tony Johnson

“I’m itching to get back out there now, hopefully at Cas – if not, then against Wakefield.”

McGuire’s absence combined with the departure of Sinfield to union means Liam Sutcliffe, 21, and Jordan Lilley, 19, have been the club’s inexperienced half-back pairing during the difficult start to their title defence.

The potential return of their captain should alleviate some of the pressure on both and McGuire, who was just 18 when he debuted for Leeds in 2001, said: “Jordan’s done great.

“It’s probably not ideal for him and Sutty to be playing together at such a young age; you’d probably want someone with a bit of experience around them.

“But it’s good for their development. It gives them a chance to see what it’s like playing in the pressure situations especially being a half-back as well as the pressure’s on you there anyway whether you’re 31 or 21.

“I think they’ve both handled that really well – Sutty coming back from a serious injury and Jordan being so young and inexperienced. They are definitely two future stars for the club.”

Nevertheless, even though it is still only March, such are the vagaries of the new Super League format, McGuire knows Leeds – in ninth just two points above bottom placed Wakefield – must start addressing their problems swiftly if they are to make a return to Old Trafford in October.

Granted, they picked up their second win with a 30-18 success against Saints last week and England winger Tom Briscoe could also return tonight to further ease their early injury problems.

However, with the top-eight decided after 23 rounds and points carried over into the Super 8s as clubs fight for the top four during seven rounds thereafter, McGuire admitted: “You can’t afford a slow start nowadays.

“Ours has not been ideal but there’s no excuses, we’ve just not played well enough in the games we’ve lost. We need to be better, find some consistency now and pick up some points.

“Easter is a crucial period; you need to make sure you deliver some wins. Usually the fall-out after Easter is quite tough, too; playing two games in four days takes it out on teams but it’s the following week and the week after that that you have to be strong.

“Hopefully, we can show our squad depth, get some players back and deliver some wins over these next few weeks.”

Leeds host Wakefield on Easter Monday but first comes the trip to Wheldon Road where derby rivals Castleford – struggling themselves with injuries and three successive losses – ordinarily provide stern opposition.

McGuire, who has won seven Grand Finals with his home-town club, added: “I love playing there – the banter with the fans, the great atmosphere – I always look forward to it and mark it on the calendar; it’s one of the most enjoyable games of the season.”