Pluck of Peacock leads Leeds to Final encounter

 

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The Independent Online

When a season is transformed from the dismal to the dramatic the way Leeds' has been, there are bound to be a few candidates for the role of the key turning point.

The second half at Wembley in August, perhaps, where the Rhinos not only salvaged their pride against Wigan, but nearly the Challenge Cup as well. Maybe something as recent as the brilliant team try by Ryan Hall on Friday that put them on their way to victory over the Super League favourites, Warrington.

When the story of this season is concluded, however, one of the pivotal events might be the chat Jamie Peacock had with his coach, Brian McDermott, in Perpignan in July.

The England captain was two months into his comeback from a knee reconstruction and he was not happy. His old form was proving slow to return and there were even whispers that Peacock was on his way out as a major force in the game.

"Brian and I had an important conversation in France. I needed more game time and I told him that he needed to show more faith in me," he says.

That faith has been rewarded in the latter stages of the season, with Peacock once more leading from the front in his old style, as he will in the Super League Grand Final against St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday.

He and McDermott go back a long way. Peacock was a late-developing young forward at Bradford when his coach was the cornerstone of the Bulls' formidable pack. If McDermott has shown a renewed confidence in Peacock, then the player was always confident that the new coach at Headingley this year would get it right in the end.

It did not always look that way. Leeds stumbled through the first half of the season, so unimpressive that missing out on the play-offs looked a possibility. Their defence was a particular weakness. "Brian introduced a few new systems that we had to get used to, but defence is mainly about attitude and that's where we've improved," Peacock says. "I'm happy for Brian, because of all the flak he took.

"There were plenty of people having a go at him, but it wasn't him that was the problem, it was the players."

Some of the changes which drew a sceptical response from Leeds' highly critical followers when McDermott introduced them have been vindicated. A good example is the use of the tiny and elusive Rob Burrow as an impact substitute later in games, rather than starting with him. That has been criticised by some –myself included – as a case of "too little, too late." We have to eat our words now, after the influence Burrow has had off the bench in recent matches. As Peacock says: "It's worked – and that's the test."

Peacock also points to the contribution some of the Rhinos' younger players have made to the play-off victories over Hull, Huddersfield and Warrington that have taken them to Saturday's Grand Final.

"I like Chris Clarkson," he says. "He's only a lad, but he plays real tough. And then there's Zak Hardaker. He could go on to be the best player in Super League. That's how good he can be. It's a great advantage to be going to Old Trafford with players in top form and we've got a lot of those."

He does not need to state the obvious, which is that a rejuvenated Jamie Peacock will be a huge asset on Saturday as well. This is where he feels that his delayed start to the season could work in his favour. "With missing the first 10 weeks, I'm still fresh," he says.

Peacock has been critical of the work-load on top players, particularly those, like him, likely to be involved in this autumn's Four Nations tournament. "Someone like Kevin Sinfield has played 36 games already this season. It's like two seasons in one."

Peacock, who has ambitions as an administrator when his playing career is finally over, has a radical solution to the problem of player burn-out. "I wouldn't allow international players to play until round three," he says. That might not have instant appeal for the game's powers, but Peacock himself is undeniably a good advert for a delayed start to a season.

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