A year on after fighting for their top tier status in the Qualifiers, Leeds Rhinos are the kings of Super League yet again. Their eighth crown was sealed with an emphatic 24-6 victory over cross-town rivals Castleford Tigers at a sold out 73,000 strong crowd at Old Trafford in Manchester.
It was a night for wet weather football and unfortunately for the Tigers, they saved their worst game for last with an error-ridden performance with the slippery conditions not suiting the style of game-play they had used during the season. While they were making history in the club’s first ever Grand Final in its 91-year existence, they nearly became the first team to not score a point in the showpiece game before a late Alex Foster try.
It was all about Leeds as they sent veterans, captain Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, off to newly promoted Hull KR and into retirement respectively with yet another Super League trophy.
1. Magician McGuire leaves best tricks for last
With over 330 games for Leeds, McGuire can now add an eighth championship and second Harry Sunderland Trophy to go with his collection of other accolades.
The 34-year-old put in a vintage display in his final match. He got Leeds going against the run of play with a high kick that winger Tom Briscoe regathered from the Tigers defence to open the scoring for the Rhinos. He later opened the gap to seven with a drop-goal on half time.
The second half was more of the same. He scored his first try in the 52nd minute when five-eighth Joel Moon set up with a high kick and Ryan Hall beat Greg Eden in the air; McGuire pouncing on the loose ball to slide over. He made it a double later in the half when the Tigers failed to recover a grubber kick from Burrow on their own line and McGuire picked it up for a very soft try. He then put the icing on the cake, so to speak, with a second drop goal three minutes from time.
McGuire also typified the Rhinos’ committed defence. In one play during the first half, season-leading try-scorer Eden seemed to be heading for the line, only for McGuire to put in a desperate attempt for the ball which forced an error from the fullback. He’s been a superb player and representative for the club, and will give Hull KR a huge boost in their first season back in the big league next season.
2. Error-ridden Tigers stumble on big stage
Castleford seemed to have the measure of Leeds in recent years having won the last eight meetings however, finals are strange creatures and they struggled under the pressure.
The Leeds team boasted 39 championships among the squad, compared to none for the Tigers and their big match experience at Manchester definitely showed. Any momentum the Tigers gained was scuppered by no less than 20 handling errors in tricky conditions, not allowing for the likes of Eden, Greg Minikin and Jy Hitchcox to build any real attack. Eden was denied by a McGuire tackle and Hitchcox 10 minutes later for an obstruction. The Rhinos capitalised on these mistakes.
They will look back on the season as the period which the club broke out as a serious contender in the league, but on this occasion as a missed opportunity.
3. Parcell proves his worth
Matt Parcell was in the thick of the action and his pace around the ruck made a huge difference for the Rhinos. For his 10 dummy-half runs, he made five tackle busts, one clean break and was an overall menace up the middle for 98 metres.
He was also solid in defence with 33 tackles. By comparison, his opposite number Paul McShane was forced to make an enormous 54 tackles, seven carries for 40 metres, and conceded two errors. He was outplayed by Parcell and Leeds’ pre-season signing from Manly has provided some dynamism to the side.
4. Rhinos pack slays the Tigers
The Rhinos forwards had a good chance against their Tigers counterparts coming into this contest and it was another factor which went in their favour.
The Tigers conceded nearly 300 metres to the Rhinos, led by Mitch Garbutt, who made 18 runs for 128 metres. Brad Singleton was just as solid with 37 tackles. The two props were well supported by the rest of the pack, with Adam Cuthbertson capping off a good season and Stevie Ward returning from a dislocated shoulder last week to make 40 tackles. Their dominance over the Tigers allowed Joel Moon and McGuire to get points on the board.
5. Rhinos kick Tigers to touch
Luke Gale loomed as a significant key for Castleford coming into the clash, alongside his halves partner Ben Roberts. However, the majority of his kicks were well handled at the back by young Jack Walker, Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe in particular. That Gale and Roberts could only get nine attacking kicks away in total was quite telling on the Tigers’ ability to attack the back three of the Rhinos.
In contrast, three of the Rhinos’ tries came from kicks, with Moon and Gale combining to give the Castleford backs a headache in the air on two occasions. Briscoe was the recipient of one of those and it was a testament to their ability to convert the big moments when required.
6. Seriously, how good are Leeds?
Eight titles. Seven finals wins in a row. 10 Grand Final appearances. They know how to reach the big stage. They know how to win it. This is their cauldron.
In 2015 they said goodbye to Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock. Last year was a sluggish season, and they finished ninth before slugging it out in the Qualifiers.
Their squad has pulled together, with some exciting youngsters, solid forwards, and an inspirational captain among big game players. Brian McDermott has re-cultivated his side.
They will enjoy this moment yet again and look to the future without Burrow and McGuire. No doubt they will continue in the same way they ended this season.
Next Stop: a date with the Melbourne Storm
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