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George Riley George Riley | 16:01 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

As the last-second penalty from Wigan full-back Pat Richards drifted short to hand Leeds victory in their Super League qualifying play-off battle two weeks ago, my phone started vibrating.

"Dirty Leeds! We'll have a re-match at Headingley in a fortnight - must be due a play-off win there," read the text message from an irate Wigan-supporting mate.

That was actually one of the more considered reactions I read in the wake of one of the most controversial and dramatic play-off contests in Super League history.

Danny McGuire

Leeds Rhinos half-back Danny McGuire has been the subject of much discussion

The prediction has since come true, with Wigan winning their match against Hull KR to set up another crack at the champions for the right to contest the 2010 Grand Final. The 'dirty Leeds' jibe was a dig at Rhinos half-back Danny McGuire, whose late foul on George Carmont denied Wigan a late try-scoring opportunity, offering up instead the chance spurned by Richards to win it with his boot.

The McGuire row is one that has escalated to such an extent that there really will be no love lost when the teams meet again in Saturday's do-or-die eliminator at the Headingley Carnegie.

Wigan fans felt they had been badly wronged by Maguire's professional foul. He made a split-second decision to take out the supporting Carmont. Tragically for Maguire, the challenge resulted in a serious knee ligament injury that has ruled him out of the play-offs, England's Four Nations campaign and the start of next season.

And it is McGuire's predicament that has prompted the sparks to fly between rival sets of fans and even the clubs.

Did the stand-off get what he deserved? Do the ruptured knee ligaments serve him right for choosing to cheat to win his team the match? Many angry Wigan fans suggested as much in an animated discussion on my Twitter page in the immediate and very raw aftermath of the game, with the lion's share of those supporters retracting their comments once the dust had settled and once the severity of McGuire's injury hit home.

As such, I was a little surprised to read comments made by television pundit Phil Clarke, a terrific reader of the game and a respected figure within the sport. Clarke suggested in his own blog that the McGuire injury may act as a lesson that it doesn't pay to cheat, adding that the player was perhaps being punished by the rugby gods for his lack of sportsmanship.

Clarke's own career was cut short by the most serious of injuries - a broken neck - and the former Wigan forward's stance on Maguire's injury has incensed the Rhinos. I personally have a huge amount of respect for Clarke and was thus surprised that a man whose judgment was so good as a player, and is often spot on as a pundit, seemed to be lacking on this occasion.

"There have been some distasteful comments made about Danny McGuire," said Leeds coach Brian McClennan this week. "They will motivate us, that's for sure."

And addressing Clarke's opinions in particular, McClennan added: "It's difficult for him because he is Wigan through and through but he needs to be more mindful when describing the Danny McGuire incident. Danny had just come out of his operation when his family read all Clarke's comments."

Whatever your own view, the row has certainly added spice to what promises to be a terrific Super League play-off, with Wigan, the runaway league leaders, and Leeds, the reigning champions. I will be joining Stuart Pyke and Iestyn Harris in the commentary box and you will be able to listen to every single hit live on BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra.

The bookies have St Helens as favourites to go all the way given their home fixture with Huddersfield in the other play-off game. I would not write off the Giants after their brilliant win at Warrington and still see Nathan Brown's Giants as Grand Final dark horses. With seven successive wins, they are the form team of the final four.

Saints opted to play Huddersfield following the second ever 'Club Call', another trailblazing concept introduced by the Rugby Football League. The highest-ranked side to win in round one get to choose their opponents in week three. Both Leeds last year (Catalans) and Saints this (Giants) simply selected the lowest-ranked side left in.

Pat Richards

Wigan full-back Pat Richards gets my vote for Man of Steel

While I often find myself patting the RFL on the back for their ground-breaking initiatives to drive forward the game I love, I just cannot see the point in this. Saints legend Keiron Cunningham calls it a "daft" system - and I agree. It is an unnecessary addition to an already complicated play-off system and one that few players and coaches I have spoken to within the game actually like.

Where is the advantage for St Helens this weekend? The normal play-off ranking draw would no doubt have pitted them against Huddersfield anyway as lowest-ranked qualifiers. Now they will be facing a more fired-up Giants side deemed to be the easier opposition by the very fact that Saints chose them.

This weekend's Super League play-offs are just part of an action-packed weekend for the rugby league journalist, with the Halliwell Jones hosting a Cooperative Grand Final triple-header on Sunday.

I will be putting the start of my 11-a-side football season on hold for second week running to watch Warrington Wizards v Huddersfield Underbank in the Conference Grand Final followed by the Championship 1 Grand Final between Oldham and York. Featherstone and Halifax then clash in the climax to the Championship.

It is the type of weekend where I both appreciate what proper rugby league is all about and realise why I have been unable to hold down a girlfriend for several years.

Monday night sees the penguin suit dusted down for the Man of Steel dinner in Manchester. Richards, Wigan team-mate Sam Tomkins and Warrington veteran Adrian Morley are up for rugby league's most coveted individual honour.

The romantic in me would love Morley to get it. He is a man who rarely hits the wall, even as the legs get older. And if he does ever hit the wall, he just runs through it and comes out fighting the other side.

But my vote would have to be for Richards, although the player himself insists that, compared with Tomkins and Sean O'Loughlin, he perhaps has not even been Wigan's standout performer this year.

My final word this week goes to big Willie Poching, who says goodbye to Headingley on Saturday. He and fellow Leeds coach Franny Cummins move on to pastures new at the end of the season.

I was commentating alongside an injured Poching as favourites Leeds played underdogs Warrington in the 2006 play-offs. It was Willie's last season as a player and he would have been fit to sign off his career with a Grand Final had the Rhinos won that day.

But then Lee Briers nailed a 79th-minute drop-goal that won Warrington the game by a point, knocked out Leeds and thus ended Poching's career in front of his own eyes.

It is a moment that will stick with me forever. All the energy ran out of Willie's body as the kick went over, his microphone dropping to his side as he realised he was actually commentating on the end to his own career. The big guy shed a tear and needed a monumental hug. I wish him the very best in his next challenge.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Riley, watch it again. McGuire and Carmont tangle legs whilst both running full pelt, this is what does McGuire's injury. He grabs Carmont as an instinctive reaction to try and keep his balance. Besides, why would he pull back Carmont? McGuire's a lot faster anyway.

    Watch it again if you don't believe me.

    What about Tomkins holding people in the ruck? Wigan scored a try following a penalty that Tomkins got by holding on to players in the ruck and conning the referee. I don't see you commenting on that.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Calling the "Club call" trailbalzing is meant as a joke isn't it? Super League has always messed up the way play offs are sorted. Going from 8 clubs to 5 just because the Aussies did it even though the Aussies did it because of a breakaway factions in their own league. Then bringing back 8 team play offs but letting teams pick their own opponents! Trailblazing? Pathetic more like. Sureley the sensible way is to use the old system. Can't remember if is called Waterloo or Wellington but basically 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7 etc. After the first round winners of match 1 plays winners of match 4 etc.

    As for Mcguire. There's no such thing as justice for cheating. If anyone should have intervened it was the ref & those watse of spaces called touch judges that should have done their jobs properly & sent him off for the foul. Even so I hope he's fit soon. He's a top player, Leeds or not.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm an ex-player like Clarke and see nothing wrong with what he has said - McGuire is responsible for his own injury.

  • Comment number 6.

    Apparently I am not allowed to say that most players in superleague cheat to get an edge - would anyone agree that there are any angels out there who do not at least bend the rules and in most cases break them to get that edge

  • Comment number 7.

    Good blog about a great sport. I have seen the McGuire incident a few times now and im 50/50 on whether it is bad as people are making it out. If he did do it on purpose then surely any player or fan would do the same for their team?

    I think Leeds will scrape through again as they usually seem to do when it matters most especially after their lacklustre performance at Wembley a few weeks ago. Wigan have been absolutely outstanding all season but I think it’s a bridge too far.

  • Comment number 8.

    How can all the Leeds haters, particularly Wigan fans have the cheek to say Danny McGuire cheated, and that he got what he deserved. For starters his leg hyperextended, the grab at Carmont was a reaction. Then he had Leuleuai+1 stodd over him like cowardly jackals while he's injured. Not to mention the endless penalties for Sam tomkins holding down. Should I even mention Joel Tomkins kicking out at Danny McGuire? You've got a lot of nerve, and lets not forget if Richards had brought his boots you would have won regardless. Stop crying and get on with it.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've got to agree with Fartowner. Any sportsman (professional or amateur) with an ounce of competitive spirit will always bend the rules if it means gaining the edge/result over the competition. What DM did was wrong in that it should have been a penalty, but it's no different to what goes on week in week out. I expect Wigan fans to be up-in-arms the next time an opposition player lays on that little bit too long to slow down the play and allow his team mates to get into a decent defensive shape; or as their opponents take their time to form a scrum and eat down the clock. The over-reaction to DM's indiscretion has been incredible. Would it have been similar if the incident had happened in the 29th minute, rather than the 79th?
    For what it's worth I think Wigan will have too much for Leeds this weekend - altho I obviously hope I'm wrong.....

  • Comment number 10.

    McClennan comments make me laugh: ".......Danny had just come out of his operation when his family read all Clarke's comments."

    Come on, McGuire had an operation on his knee, it was hardly life saving surgery and one that would be keeping the family pacing up and downs the wards until the wee hours.............stop being a fool McClennan, your team reaps what it sows. All we need now is that clown Bailey to get what he deserves.

  • Comment number 11.

    As a neutral and a lover of the game. These things (both the injury and the foul play) in every game. As it was such a high profile game it has been blown out of all proportion. I just hope both sides keep their cool and prove what great teams they are and give us all 80 minutes of fantastic play with no incidents

  • Comment number 12.

    Totally agree with Robbierhino, except that true amateurs shouldn't resort to foul play. It's one of the downsides of pro' sport of any kind.

    By the way, George, talking about 'holding down a girlfriend' doesn't sound quite right! I think 'holding down a relationship' is the phrase!

  • Comment number 13.

    Just to add on to reply no 12- surely a player getting an injury is unfortunate rather than tragic- Tragedy is rather overused as an adjective in such circumstances - and ive no problem with what Danny did - i think most players would have done it- his injury was not a punishment from above

    as for patting the RFL on the back for ground breaking initiatves - you cant be serious - the game survives despite the RFL - theyre pure comedy at times - if theyre so innovative why is the game still stuck in the heartlands with some clubs even in superleague living on the breadline - stop the crawling please George -youre insulting the ordinary fans intelligence .

    and as for adding spice on saturday - its a good enough game in its own right without people hoping to see any kind of nonsense or people taking retribution over some daft comments by a tv reporter - i want an open exciting contest - you should be saying the same

    and i think you should have congratulated Michael Maguire - he didnt want to get involved in some kind of public slanging match - concentrating on the football instead- how refreshing dont you think

  • Comment number 14.

    I suppose it comes down to the mentality of the player. It's a split second decision so if your first instinct is to "cheat" I think that says a lot about you as a person. I've played alot of sports and hobbies that whilst not professional I still really want to win to beat my opponent. I can honestly say I've never "cheated" to make sure I win, obviously you commit fouls etc but I've never deliberately done something outside of the rules to ensure victory. I play in a pool league and in a last game of the season decider I called a foul on myself because I touched the ball. Nobody else noticed and it would have been easy to just carry on but I'd rather lose than have a hollow victory.

    As far as the injury to McGuire, whilst I'd never wish anybody injury, I find it hard to have any sympathy for someone who is injured whilst cheating. Hopefully he makes a full recovery but I'm sure it wont make any difference to how he plays the game. Given the same circumstances I'm sure he would do exactly the same thing again because its in his instincts to do so.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Well said Robbo4444, it seems that most people think that cheating isn't just acceptable, but is something to be admired, what a sad indictment on the populace as a whole.

    A large proportion of people really need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask how they'd feel if they were cheated out of something important to them, before whining about anyone criticizing cheats.

  • Comment number 17.

    It doesn't matter what play-off format the RFL adopt, there will always be a few who want to criticise. On the whole, it's a fair system, and the fact that Leeds and Wigan meet again is great for the sport given the events of two weeks ago. I for one can't wait.

    I also want to defend the 'Club Call' - it's a nice little quirk and gets people talking. It's been set up (in theory) to reward the team finishing 1st in the regular season, otherwise there is very little benefit to finishing 1st over 2nd in the regular season. How else do you propose rewarding the team who finish top of the pile in the regular season? Without a suitable alternative I don't think it's fair to criticise.

  • Comment number 18.

    Really interesting article, I hadn't realised Phil Clarke had been so out spoken. As a neutral, wanting both sides to lose!!! The game was brilliant and I hope the rematch is just as intense.
    As for Mcguire, did he really need to commit the foul and if not would he have been injured - only he will ever know and if it had happened with 20 minutes to go know one would care, so recover well Danny, just have off days against Bradford!
    Of all the comments banded around its the one Bluey made after the match which I think is the worst - 'Mcguire was deliberatly injury after the ball had gone and I want the RFL to investigate!'
    As for the intresting play in the game, the refs need to be more consistant - I saw several incidents in that weeks play off games that all season have received yellow cards and no one left the field - yes refs want to keep a good game going but they really need to make it clear foul play won't be tollorated - I'm thinking of the holding down in the Hull derby following a break, Bailey's forearm smash on a player held by two others and Tomkins kicking out - although Tomkins nose was nearly taken of by Mcguires swinging arm so should both have gone?
    Anyway rant over - So here is to a great game let the contest begin. May the most battered and bruised teams reach the final.

  • Comment number 19.

    MattietheRhino - completely agree re Tomkins in the tackle. We could argue all day about Danny's intent or otherwise I guess.
    Liam - like it or not the RFL do have the balls to try things that aren't done in other sports, successful or otherwise - Magic, Club Call etc
    RobboRhino - yeah there's always gonna be partisan fire in stuff like this - like yelling for a forward pass then laughing when your side gets away with one!
    comebackdevils - haha, good point.
    Cocokin, thanks as always for your constructive feedback.
    Robbo4444 - pool / snooker are brilliant for sportsmanship - all players call fouls on themselves

  • Comment number 20.

    Having watched the game on telly, it is clear that McGuire pulled Carmont back, off the ball. Whether this was a deliberate act of cheating, or whether it was down to his injury, only Danny will know. However, despite it denying Wigan a try scoring chance, that's now history, and it may have actually helped us to lose that game. We had a real workout in defence and attack against Hull KR, and now go into the Leeds re-match with some real momentum. Incidentally George - Pat's kicked would not have won us the game - it would have been a draw, with extra time to follow.

    Regarding Sam Tomkins not releasing the tackler's arm - I see it as the tacklers responsibility to free their own arm. If the attacking player releases his opponents arm, then he risks knocking on, so why should he do it?

    Lastly, I wish Danny McGuire a speedy recovery - he's been in great form this season, and will be missed by England (and us fans) in the 4 Nations.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Incidentally George - Pat's kicked would not have won us the game - it would have been a draw, with extra time to follow."

    Whoops - I'm wrong about that aren't I? Doh! (It's been a long week!)

  • Comment number 22.

    As a Hull KR fan living in Leeds with a family of whinging Rhinos fans around me, I would love to see Wigan batter the Rhinos on Saturday.
    Had the previous game gone to added time with the penalty, or an outright win for wigan had McGuire not cheated, Wigan would have been making the club call (pointless exercise) not Saints.
    Wigan have been the best club all season and rightly finished top of the pile.
    They are champions, not whoever wins at Old Trafford.
    The playoffs are just a way of wringing money out of loyal fans.
    As for the millenium magic weekend, do the decent thing. There is one london club & one French club. Why not play the weekend in Manchester?
    Use Old Trafford one day & the Council House the next?

  • Comment number 23.

    Try doing your job PROPERLY moderators, my last post may have been boring, but there was nothing in it that deserves moderation.
    It's over two and a half hours now, how long does it actually take to read a few lines, you really are unfit for purpose.

  • Comment number 24.

    One things for sure - if i was a saints fan i would be very pleased at the Danny Maquire incident (not injury) as tonight two teams are going to knock ten bells out of each other. Im not too bothered who wins tonight i'd only want wigan to win for the atmosphere of two local rivals next week!!

    As for Phil Clarke - I really like Phil however his comments were very naive considering his role and history with Wigan. I watched the incident a number of times and still cant decide if it was an accident or not. If this had been in the first minute and not the last would we he have written this? I cant stand the word cheat in association with rugby league, drug takers apart - lets leave the word out of a game where people put their bodies on the line every week.

    Looking forward to a really great game tonight and being part of a great rugby league spectacle next week in Manchester.

  • Comment number 25.

    Wigan v Siants for the Grand Final. It's what rugby was invented for. Come on you pie eaters!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    justice served, methinks

    (going to be a busy weekend! - although it's a disgrace the Purdham memorial game is being comprehensively ignored by the BBC)


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