McGuire puts Rhinos in sight of their most desired prize

Leeds 32 St Helens 28
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The Independent Online

They are not so much the Golden Generation as the Blue and Amber Generation, but the Leeds team that grew up together are on the threshold of an achievement that will mean more to them than any other.

The group of players who, as Kevin Sinfield reiterated this week, could all have earned more money elsewhere, have already done a lot together: won Super League titles, World Club Championships, and played internationals.

The one thing they have not done is win the Challenge Cup – and they took a big step towards that in a superb semi-final on Saturday. It was one of those lifetime Rhinos, Danny McGuire, who scored the winning try, his second of a match in which he threatened St Helens constantly.

Equally important to the victory, however, were two players brought in at different stages of the Leeds resurgence. It was Jamie Peacock who supplied the crucial pass, with one last effort that McGuire called "super-human".

He also revealed that it was a move that the pair of them had worked on in training on their own initiative. "These things don't happen by accident," said their coach, Brian McClennan. Just as influential was another veteran, Keith Senior, who played at Wembley 12 years ago with Sheffield. "He's just so threatening," added McClennan, "and he made some great defensive reads."

It was not all smooth progress for Leeds, with at least three players – Luke Burgess, Greg Eastwood and Ryan Bailey – making errors of technique or temperament that could have cost their side such a tight semi-final.

But generally, all the decisions that McClennan made, such as starting with Lee Smith and Bailey; keeping faith with young Chris Clarkson; and the surprise inclusion of Eastwood on the bench after a knee injury, were fully justified.

Saints also played a full part in what was, like so many games involving the top echelon of teams this season, a marvellous advert for rugby league. Without Leon Pryce and Kyle Eastmond, their team-sheet did not strike its old fear into the stomach, but they came so close to finding, in multi-purpose footballers like James Roby, the men to get the job done.

Keiron Cunningham, in the final Cup campaign of a career that has brought him seven winners' medals, was another who did not deserve to be on the losing side. With Pryce and Eastmond back, they will be much the bigger threat in the Super League play-offs and Mick Potter still has every chance of a first trophy with Saints before he departs at the end of the season.

"We just have to re-focus now," the Australian coach said. Even in defeat, there was enough evidence to suggest that they may still do just that.

Leeds Webb; Smith, Delaney, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Bailey, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson, Sinfield. Substitutes used Leuluai, Eastwood, Diskin, Burgess.

St Helens Wellens; Foster, Gidley, Meli, Gardner; Wilkin, Moore; Graham, Roby, Hargreaves, Flannery, Ashurst, Magennis. Substitutes used Cunningham, Puletua, Clough, Emmitt.

Referee P Bentham (Warrington).

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