Danny boy: McGuire’s mission for 2017

Danny McGuire has long been an institution – not just at Leeds but in Super League in general.

The playmaker, who debuted in 2001, has made 306 appearances in the competition and scored a mammoth 206 tries. During that time McGuire has won everything on offer and enjoyed a glittering career, for both club and country. But 2016 was one of the toughest campaigns for the veteran stand-off.

Shorn of the security blanket of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacok and Kylie Leuluai, hobbled by injury, he managed just 13 games and not a single try last year. The 34-year old is approaching the end of his career but there is still plenty of fight left in the East Leeds ARLFC product. We sat down with the playmaker to talk about the new season ahead, the Rhinos, the state of the game, England and much more:

How are you feeling, body-wise, ahead of the start of the season?

“I feel really good, its been a really enjoyable pre-season. I’ve not missed a training session, I’ve done everything that I’ve needed to do and I feel really good. I think every pre-season is tough, every player will tell you that it’s a tough time. There’s been plenty of training, plenty of volume but everyone is looking forward to playing now. We’ve got a big game first up against Saints and as a team I think it’s important.”

What will be the halves pairing at Leeds this year?

“Obviously during the pre-season the combinations have been changing quite a lot but I think myself and Rob [Burrow] have got first shot. It’s up to ourselves to keep that pressure with our performances really and Liam [Sutcliffe] and Jordan [Lilley] and Cory Aston coming in there’s pressure there and if your performances aren’t up to scratch then there’s going to be people there snapping at your heels wanting to come in. So that’s good for me, it keeps me on my toes so I just want to go out there and play well this year.”

Is the pain of 2016 at the back of your mind?

“Yeah I think you can probably use the tough times [as motivatio], you want to keep a little bit of that because it can spur you on and we had it tough at periods last year and we’ve had a lot of those years where things have gone really well. A setback here and there doesn’t really do you any harm, so for me it’s all about looking forward, looking forward to a positive mindframe. I’m looking forward to 2017 and the season that’s ahead. The competition ahead is going to be tough but we now believe in our players and what we’ve got here and I think if we perform to our levels and our standards we can do well.”

Who out of the other teams looks strong?

“I think the competition’s strong, I think the evenness of the competition is probably the closest it’s been for a while. I think Castleford will be strong this year, their recruitment looks really good and they’ve got a really good coach in Daryl Powell there so I expect them to be up there putting the pressure on. Then you’ve got your Wigan, Warrington, St Helens, Hull, probably everyone wants to be up there performing well so I think it’s a big challenge to put ourselves back in there with them.”

What did you think of England’s performances in the Four Nations?

“Watching the games and that it’s hard, I’m english and passionate, I want the team to do well. I just think it’s a little bit disappointing that they didn’t make the final. Australia they’re a great team, they  have great players. It would have been nice going into the following year and potentially make the final and get some good momentum going forward for this year. There’s some good young players in the squad, especially George Williams, I thought he had a good series and I think he’s definitely maturing as a halfback. There was some good points but I think if you ask anyone in the squad they’re probably disappointed they didn’t make the final.”

Are you still available for international selection?

“I’ve not retired from international rugby league. It’s been a few years since I was involved – there’s George Williams, Luke Gale, younger players that have got the shirts at the minute. It’s tough, I was in and around the squad for seven or eight years and never nailed down that position and that’s probably a bit of a regret really. The halves were always chopping and changing and it’s tough, your’ eplaying against the best players in the world and in a really crucial position as well. It’ll be great if England can be successful this year in the World Cup, it’ll be great for us folk, it’ll be great for everyone involved but New Zealand and Australia are very strong as well. So I think it’s important in Super League that the competition is strong this year and gives them the best chance of playing.”

It’s been a hard few months for the sport with the Bradford administration, the scrapping of the Dubai camp and several players walking out on contracts. What has been your take?

“It’s tough for me because I always like to speak positively about the game, I hate trying to talk it down. It’s been good to me, I’ve been playing since was a kid, me being part of this club is everything. This club has done brilliantly from the chairman at the top to the academy so it’s hard for me. I really want to speak positively about it but some of the things that are going on I worry for the game. With players leaving to rugby union it just opens up an avenue that we don’t really want to go down. Leeds vs Bradford are the best games I’ve ever played in, mid-2000 against the Bulls at Odsal or here. It’s reall frustrating what’s happened there but I think someones got to take a real hold of the game and have a bit of a vision of where we’re going and what we want to achieve and start pushing it. It seems like we’re at a bit of a crossroads. I think we need a bit of direction, a bit of vision, it’s hard because I’m nowhere near the top. It’s someone miles higher up than me that has this vision and decides where we want to go and what we want to achieve. Do we want to be competing with Australia and beating Australia and new zealand? Or are we happy just looking after Super League and not worrying about international games and not worrying about grassroots? There’s a lot more areas where we can be better at but it’s frustrating. Ultimately we;ve got a great spectacle, weve got a great game, some of the best athletes in the country are playing this game and that’s what we are. That’s what I like to speak more about – our great players and our crowds here at Headingley are brilliant as wel. Our fans are brilliant, [but] we’ve got to address things and work on it.”

What did you think of the standard of Super League last year?

“If I’m honest I watched a few of the games when I wasn’t involved and they weren’t great, and thats just an honest opinion. I think we’ve created a more eager competition with a bit of unpredictability with the results, but some of the games the standards last year weren’t great and I’m not sure the reason for that. Are results more important now? Are people taking chances – the risk-takers, the Lee Briers, them type of players. Results and winning is probably more important now and not many people are taking risks and chances. I’d like to see a bit more of that in the game but that’s just where we’re at at the moment. In Australia there’s a focus on  completion rates whereas the likes of Daryl Powell say we need to be expansive and that’s whats good about the English game and I kind of agree with him in a way. We get a good mix of that, a mix of the tough stuff with the flair, and I think we’re somewhere in the middle.”

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