EXCLUSIVE: An interview with Danny McGuire

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It is fair to say that Danny McGuire is one of the very best players to have graced Super League. The competition’s record try scorer with 259 at the time of writing, he has also played his part in Leeds Rhinos’ rise to being the most successful club in the Super League era having featured in all eight of the West Yorkshire team’s Grand Final triumphs. Indeed, he has won the Harry Sunderland Trophy twice in that time, including in Leeds’ 2017 triumph.

That, however, was his final game playing for the team whose academy he graduated from and made over 400 appearances for. July 2017 saw him sign a deal with Hull Kingston Rovers – then still in the second tier – to start in 2018 so, after the Grand Final, he crossed from West to East Yorkshire. Already, he has faced his former team twice and, when he generously gave up time to meet Get ’em Onside, he admitted that it was rather peculiar initially.

“The first time was strange,” McGuire said, adding that “I was there that long and the club sort of becomes your extended family.” Having joined the club at the age of 12, that’s perhaps not surprising. Obviously going back to Leeds to face his old teammates at Elland Road in the season’s second match was odd for the 35 year old – and his family, all of whom are Leeds fans – but, when it came to last month’s reverse fixture at Craven Park, he explained that it didn’t seem as odd. “It was fine really. I’d already done it before and knew what to expect. Once I’d cross the white line, all I want to do is go out there and win and play well for my team mates. They’re the ones I work with all the time and put the hard graft in with.”

Speaking of that recent 18-20 reverse to the Rhinos at Craven Park, McGuire explained his belief that the team were unfortunate in defeat. “It was a bit of a disappointing result. We were unlucky to be fair, we were in the contest all game. We had a sin-bin, let in a couple of soft tries and have loads of chances to score but Leeds just scrambled well.” That scrambling defence is something that the East Leeds junior was a part of before his move and he admitted that “their defence is really good. The work ethic and the desperation to not let teams beat you is a hard trait to get into a team but Leeds have it. My time at Leeds we had that in bundles and the lads there now are carrying that on which is good for the club – but not for us when we played them!” 

Now with Hull KR, McGuire spoke about how the move East came about last season. “I had a bit of an inkling that it might be a good thing to do something different – for me and the club – and then, when I spoke to Gary, they weren’t sure about offering me a contract. By the first meeting I knew that it was right to try something new.” Understandably difficult for him to leave the club after so long, McGuire thanked Gary Hetherington for his support, and said that “I’ve had a brilliant relationship with him and the club all the way through [my career] and once I told Gary that was my decision he was fine by it, he understood my situation and it happened pretty quickly after that, really.” Soon after, he spoke to Jamie Peacock and within a week I’d signed for Rovers. “It was tough at the time as I always thought I’d only play at Leeds, I was pretty blinkered,” he admitted, continuing that “I didn’t really look into opportunities to play elsewhere because I was happy but, sitting here now, I’m really happy and pleased that I made the decision. I’m enjoying what I’m doing in a different environment and a different challenge – it’s been good so far.”

That relationship with Jamie Peacock is one which was pivotal in McGuire making the move, as the former Leeds half-back explained, but also confirmed that meeting with the Robins’ boss helped him make the decision. “I sat with JP and I met Tim Sheens in Hull. At the point there wasn’t a guarantee that they would be back into Super League but they said that the contract was there regardless. I spoke to Tim and pretty much decided that that was the right thing to do. His experience, his standing and his achievements in the game… I was looking forward to working with someone like that and to learn from them. If I ever go into coaching, to play under and learn from somebody like that is a big thing. It seemed a good fit and I knew quite a lot of the boys there; Scrutes [Nick Scruton], Clarky [Chris Clarkson], Shaun Lunt and Robbie [Mulhern, all from their time with McGuire in Leeds] so I knew a fair few there. The fact that the latter has recently signed a new long-term deal suggests that Hull KR are a team on the up, McGuire agreeing; “they’ve got some ambition, it just needs a bit of time to regroup and get a bit more Super League experience. That won’t happen overnight but there’s people working there that are ambitious and that want to be successful.” 

Plenty of Rhinos fans were questioning at the end of the 2017 campaign whether there was any way McGuire could stay on at the club he had served since his 2001 debut. Last season, of course, culminated with a remarkable 24-6 victory over Castleford Tigers in the Super League Grand Final and McGuire, as well as scoring two drop goals, crossed for two tries and won the Harry Sunderland trophy. Speaking of whether there was any wish from his side to stay on, the player himself said “once I’d made that decision [to move to Hull KR], no matter how things went, I was going at the end of the season. Ideally, for me, you want to be playing and winning at Old Trafford in your last game for a club. If you could write a fairytale ending, that would be it. At the time, I was determined just to enjoy my last few months with the Rhinos and give it my all really. I never thought about staying, I’m a pretty honest guy and once I’d made my decision I was always going to follow through with it.” Speaking about his time at the club, it is plain to see that there are parts of it that McGuire misses but he admitted that “there was never any thought of changing my mind. I had a great time at Leeds, twenty-odd years at the club but I knew deep down that I needed to do something different to challenge myself. I know I have a lot left in me and that I can keep playing.” His final game was, of course, made all the sweeter due to the fact it was a victory over 2017’s great entertainers, Castleford, a team who had been enjoying a great run against the Rhinos. “They had the upper hand on us!” he admitted, adding that “it was nice to beat them after they had beaten us that many times but they had a great year. Honestly, I did feel a bit disappointed for them after the game but we got the win!”

Contrasting his approach to playing with Leeds and now with KR, McGuire suggested there wasn’t an awful lot different. “I still do everything that I used to do at Leeds. I’m quite professional in my approach to things and you hope that that will rub off on some of the other players so, no, I haven’t really changed anything,” he articulated. “We’ve been in some great contests this year and I think we’ve only really had one game where we haven’t been in the contest for large parts of it [St Helens], but even then the scoreline blew out at the end,” he added. “We could have quite easily beat Leeds twice, should have beaten Catalans away… those results have gone against us.” Despite their lowly position in the table, McGuire is of the belief that there is still hope for the club to reach the top eight come the split after 23 matches. “We’ve got a good squad together there, a lot of lads who work hard for each other. It’s possibly just a lack of Super League experience that’s missing, that know-how of how to close games down when you’re in front and to not panic. I think we are gradually getting better and put in a good performance against Leeds. Although we are sat second bottom, there is still a lot of confidence in the camp and I think the lads know that we are all giving it everything – that’s all you can ask for,” he explained, confident that it won’t be long before results start to come for the East Hull team.

When Get ’em Onside met McGuire, it was days after the premiere of the As Good As It Gets documentary, the general focus of which was the club’s sterling achievements of completing the treble of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final. A remarkable feat unquestionably but, interestingly, McGuire revealed that he doesn’t feel that it was his best season in rugby league. “If you’d asked me before last year I’d have said yes, you can’t beat that. But, for what happened last year [winning the Grand Final], for me personally, that was my best year, because of what happened in 2016,” he said, adding that “being my first year as captain, getting injured and the team doing poor… we didn’t play well when we had chances, it wasn’t great. To come back from that and then doing what we did last year, I take a lot of pride in that.” As the team struggled following the departures of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai at the end of the 2015, there were plenty of critics of McGuire’s, as he revealed. “A few people were saying ‘he’s done, he’s not going to play again’… to be able to come back and play pretty much all year and to go on to win the Grand Final was a big achievement.” Speaking of that final which saw Leeds topple the team who had previously beat them in their last eight encounters and their build up to the final, McGuire said “we felt like we would always get confidence towards the back end of the year. We ran Cas close at their place [38-24, 8/9/17] and got some real confidence out of that game and we found our feet. When you get to a final you have an opportunity and, with our experience of big games, we believed we would come through the other side.”

The Rhinos documentary showcases the work ethic and teamwork synonymous with Leeds teams over the last decade or so and, having moved East, McGuire hopes to be able to have a positive impact and bring that effort to Hull KR. “You have to get competitive and determined people into a group to get the work ethic, it can take a bit of time to do but it’s getting there,” he said. A lot of that ‘Golden Generation’ came through the Rhinos youth system to become some of the best players in the country and, speaking of the youngsters at KR who he feels can make a real impact, he agreed with Get ’em Onside’s suggestion that former Leeds youngster Robbie Mulhern – “he’s been top class all year” – and half-back Chris Atkin are looking promising. “Robbie’s been class all year. It’s good that he’s signed the new deal [until the end of 2021], he was probably getting interest from elsewhere so it’s good that he’s signed,” he revealed. “I think that Chris, from having very little experience at all and playing for Swinton a couple of years ago, has done really, really well,” he suggested, further adding that “Matty Marsh is another one. He’s been on dual-reg at York and he is really talented. He just needs a bit of time. There are a fair few good young players; George Lawler could be a really good player, Will Oakes, Will Dagger, Joe Cator, Brad Clavering… there’s loads of players at KR who are young and could potentially play for us for a number of years.” 

Coming to the club with huge experience, McGuire has found himself as an informal mentor to the young halves at the club who, understandably, would be keen to learn from the former Great Britain and England international. “My focus is on myself and playing well week in, week out but I feel like I do help the younger players. I always find that I get on well with other half-backs, while they are competing for the same position. I’ve worked with Matty and Chris and we’re always talking about things. Hopefully they feel that training alongside me and working with me is good for them – they keep me on my toes so that’s good as well,” he articulated, joking that “I can’t be giving all my tricks away – not yet!”

Nearing the end of an illustrious career as a player, the way McGuire spoke about current boss Tim Sheens and how he has aspects to learn from suggests that he may have an eye on coaching in the future. “I’m still a bit unsure but I did a bit of stuff at Leeds with the commercial team and I enjoy the corporate side of things but I think I feel that I’d be a good coach. I’ve worked with some great coaches like Tony [Smith], Brian McLennan and Brian McDermott, Powelly [Daryl Powell] at the start of his career and Tim now. There’s some of the game’s best coaches there,” he said, further adding that “if you can bring all the good points and get rid of the not-so-good points and put that together with your own stamp it could work.” 

What is plain from meeting the former Rhinos number six is that McGuire is a man who, while knowing he has had a remarkable career and is one of the best British players to play the game, is a rugby league fan and is willing to talk about his views on the game. Get ’em Onside was lucky enough to meet him and it was a privilege to spend some time meeting and talking to ‘Magsy’.

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