When he arrived at Hull College Craven Park in 2018 for what would prove to be the final two seasons of a stellar playing career, Danny McGuire found a club in a very different situation the one which now stands 80 minutes from a place in the Super League Grand Final.
At that time, McGuire had signed off from 16 years in a Leeds Rhinos shirt after producing a Harry Sunderland Trophy-winning performance in the club’s eighth Grand Final success and switched to a Hull Kingston Rovers side which had just been promoted back to Super League.
His two seasons in a Robins shirt saw them finish in the qualifiers and then avoid relegation on points difference from London Broncos on the final day of the 2019 regular season, while his first in an off-field role at Hull KR saw another 11th-place finish in the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign.
Live Betfred Super League
September 30, 2021, 7:00pm
Nevertheless, Rovers have shocked many observers this year by not only qualifying for the play-offs for the first time since 2013 but also progressing to the semi-finals on the back of a 19-0 win away to Warrington Wolves in last week’s eliminator and Assistant coach McGuire has seen first-hand just how far they have come on and off the field from his first season in East Hull.
“I’d just played in a Grand Final and left Leeds, and to be totally honest it was a bit of a culture shock at first – I didn’t have anywhere to sit in the changing rooms!” McGuire told Sky Sports. “It was a bit different to what I’d been used to, but I really enjoyed the challenge.
“On the field, it probably wasn’t as successful as I would have liked it to have been and we struggled, but there are so many good people doing good things at Rovers behind the scenes who probably don’t get talked about.
“We’ve got a fantastic fanbase as well who support the team through thick and thin, and this year it’s been really enjoyable. We’ve got a fantastic group of players who are really proud to wear the badge and do the club proud.
“We’re in a good place and it’s definitely come a long way in the four years I’ve been there.”
A key part of their on-field revival has been Tony Smith’s work as head coach, having joined midway through 2019 following the departure of Tim Sheens and molded a side that plays with an eye-catching and – most importantly – winning style which has won plaudits.
McGuire played a big role in bringing his former Leeds and Great Britain – later England – coach, who had been working in football with the Premier League and League Managers’ Association, back into the rugby league fold by phoning him when he knew Sheens was departing .
What was initially intended to be a short-time role has blossomed into a role in which the former Huddersfield Giants, Leeds and Warrington boss is contracted to until at least the end of 2022, and Smith still practices what he has been preaching for the best part of two decades.
Even when he first coached us at Leeds 17 years ago, it was always about expressing yourself as a player and backing your abilities.
Danny McGuire on Hull KR head coach Tony Smith
“Even when he first coached us at Leeds 17 years ago, it was always about expressing yourself as a player and backing your abilities,” McGuire, who won his first two Grand Finals as part of Smith’s Leeds side, said.
“He’s still the same now; if you practice it and work hard on the training field, you can kind of go out there and express yourself as a player.
“He’s very demanding. He’s probably a bit more chilled out now than when he coached us at Leeds, but he’s just a very smart coach and he understands people and the game as good as anybody.
“He cares about his players as well, which for me is always a big one. That’s probably his best asset, and he’s very knowledgeable.”
McGuire is enjoying learning from one of the stand-out head coaches in Super League history as he starts out on his own coaching journey, while one person who is excelling on the playing side at Hull KR is half-back Jordan Abdul.
A Hull native, albeit having begun his career with cross-city rivals Hull FC, Abdul’s impact in 2021 has seen him named as one of five nominees for the Man of Steel award and McGuire is impressed by the 25-year-old’s development since he joined from London Broncos ahead of last season.
“He’s been outstanding, and his Man of Steel nomination shows the influence he’s had, not just on our team but the competition as a whole,” McGuire said. “He’s really grown as a leader, for me, and I think that’s the big thing this year.
“To go to the next level as a player you need that consistency to deliver week in, week out and Jordan has pretty much done that for us all year. He fully deserves that, and we’ve got some outstanding young half-backs in our club.
He’s been outstanding, and his Man of Steel nomination shows the influence he’s had, not just on our team but the competition as a whole.
Danny McGuire on Hull KR half-back Jordan Abdul
“We’re really blessed with Mikey Lewis, Rowan Milnes and Jordan – they’re all 25 and under and they’re only going to get better as well. It’s really promising for Rovers’ future and potentially all three of them could quite easily play for their country as well.”
Added into that over the past two seasons have been high-profile overseas recruits like Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Albert Vete, not to mention McGuire’s former Leeds team-mate Ryan Hall who scored 15 tries in Super League this season prior to suffering an injury.
Hall could return for Thursday’s semi-final away to Catalans Dragons, live on Sky Sports, but whatever happens in that clash with the League Leaders’ Shield winners, the challenge is to ensure this year’s play-off appearance does not prove a fleeting one.
“The next step for the club is to be consistent, challenge and keep improving,” McGuire said. We’ve got some really good things going on behind the scenes in the academy as well developing our own players.
“We’re in a really good spot and we need to keep building on that, not rest on our laurels, and try to get stronger as a club.”