Danny McGuire wants Hull KR and Leigh Leopards to serve up a thriller in Saturday’s Challenge Cup final to help fire the competition back to previous heights, admitting that some of the shine has been taken off the famous old trophy by the rise of the Grand Final in Super League.
Four years on from retiring, former half-back McGuire is still the top try scorer ever in Super League, with 247. He won no less than eight Grand Finals as well as three World Club Challenges, all with Leeds Rhinos.
But now the assistant coach to Willie Peters at KR as the Robins prepare for a Challenge Cup final against the Leopards, McGuire – who won it twice as a player – is desperate to see the domestic cup competition returned to its former glory.
Danny McGuire on his love for the Challenge Cup
40-year-old McGuire was triumphant at Wembley with the Rhinos in both 2014 and 2015, winning back-to-back Challenge Cups.
The first of those saw Leeds get the better of Castleford Tigers, with the second a thumping 50-0 success against his current employers KR. Tom Briscoe grabbed five tries for the Rhinos that day, and will line up for Leigh this weekend.
There have also been numerous disappointments in the competition for the former England and Great Britain international, though they haven’t dampened his love for it, as he told Love Rugby League.
McGuire said: “It’s all about the history of the competition for me and the prestige of looking at the trophy. I’ve got so many memories of watching the competition as a kid, going to Wembley and watching Leeds play Wigan, getting drubbed by them in the 90’s.
“Then obviously playing in it and going through the ups and downs that come with that – losing finals, not getting picked for a final, winning them, I’ve probably experienced as much as most people in the Challenge Cup.
“It’s a competition I love, and one I want to be up there when people discuss big games in the rugby league calendar, because [the final] is a massive game.”
KR v Leopards: “It’s a game that could lift the cup back to its former glories”
The now-assistant made the move to Craven Park ahead of 2018, making 45 appearances over the next two years before retiring and starting his journey as a coach.
This weekend’s game provides KR with a first trip to Wembley since that 2015 drubbing, and a chance to win a first Challenge Cup in 43 years. Leigh’s wait has been an even longer one, last appearing in the showpiece of the competition in 1971, one of their two triumphs as they shocked Leeds in a game which saw a first-ever red card in a Challenge Cup final.
Saturday also brings a first final not to involve at least one of Leeds, St Helens, Wigan Warriors or Warrington Wolves since 1986. McGuire hopes that fresh faces can bring new life to the cup.
He added: “The Challenge Cup for me has always been really special, but I think with the rise of the Grand Final, it’s probably taken a little bit of esteem off the Challenge Cup if I’m being honest.
“Now, with ourselves and Leigh getting there, we haven’t won it since 1980 and Leigh haven’t since 1971. I think there’s a really good storyline here, hopefully the game’s built up within the media this week, and both clubs have got an outstanding loyal fanbase so it should be a really exciting game.
“It’s one that could lift the cup back to its former glories I suppose.”
Robins coach discusses journey at the club so far
When McGuire joined the Robins for 2018, it came upon their return to Super League having spent a year in the Championship.
They had been promoted via the now-redundant ‘Super 8s’ format, which saw the bottom four clubs from Super League and top four from the second tier hauled into a mini-league. Coincidentally, the two sides meeting this Saturday at Wembley did so in those Super 8s on the same date six years ago.
KR stunned Leigh on their path to promotion with a 20-16 win away from home. The then-Centurions would go on to be relegated via the Million Pound Game that year, losing out to Catalans Dragons who now top the Super League table while the Leopards sit 3rd.
KR coach McGuire says the two clubs involved this weekend have come a long way from those darker days, but acknowledges those journeys can only add to a fantastic occasion for all involved in the capital.
“There’s some really good things from my journey at Rovers, even from starting there as a player six years ago. The club’s in a totally different stratosphere now with so many good things happening off the field. The quality of the players that we’ve got, the culture, the standards, it’s improved so much.
“Leigh this year have been sensational, everybody was writing them off at the start of this year but you only have to look at the key players and you knew they were going to be a really good team.
“They’ve proven that with their performances, so it’s a massive challenge for us, but I believe we’ve also got some really good players who can go and challenge them. It’s good for the competition that ourselves and Leigh are there, and hopefully both teams can perform well.”