Senior ready for one last shot at his favourite foe

The Leeds man enjoys taking on Australians. Tomorrow’s World Club Challenge could be his final chance, he tells Dave Hadfield

Saturday 27 February 2010 01:00
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Keith Senior has been lining up for big international events for so long that when he started he still had hair and discretion.

The Leeds centre is the one survivor of Super League's opening night in Paris 14 years ago still playing. He is the veteran of 33 Tests and countless major occasions with the Rhinos – but tomorrow could be his last on the international stage.

Senior, now 34, will play for Leeds in the World Club Challenge against the Melbourne Storm at Elland Road tomorrow night. Subject to what Leeds achieve domestically over the rest of the season, it could be his last big night overall. "I'm on a rolling one-year contract and I'll see how I feel towards the end of the season," he says. "But this could be the last."

In theory, the new England coach, whoever it is, could do what his predecessor, Tony Smith, failed to do, by picking up the phone and talking him out of international retirement for this autumn's Four Nations in Australia and New Zealand. "But it's not going to happen," he says.

Senior has a particular affinity for taking on Australians. Even in well-beaten Great Britain sides, his contest with his opposing centre was often a ray of light in the gloom. "Even in this country, I've loved those battles with the likes of Matt Gidley and Jamie Lyon," he says. "They bring out the best in you."

That is why he regrets something that would be a source of profound relief to most players on tomorrow. Unless one of the coaches comes up with something unexpected, he will not be in direct opposition to the man now generally regarded as state of the art – Greg Inglis. "He's obviously one of the best there's been, and it would have been good to actually play directly against him."

Senior has earned a reputation as the sort of blunt Yorkshireman who calls a spade a bloody shovel. His opinion that Crusaders should not be in Super League, for instance, might well have been one of the factors that encouraged them to give Leeds such a hard time in the first game of what is so far an unimpressive Rhinos campaign.

His scepticism about expansion clubs does not extend to Melbourne, however. "They've proved their point by being so successful," he says. "You can't argue with that."

As for Leeds' own lacklustre form, he believes that is something they can shake off when they get on a relatively firm track in front of a big crowd at Elland Road.

He also points to the World Club Challenge of three years ago, when St Helens were equally uninspiring in the build-up but clicked into form on the night to beat the Brisbane Broncos.

"I'm a believer in the World Club Challenge," says a man who sold his World Cup medal on eBay because he is not interested in prizes for losing. "But it's been over here for a few years now and maybe it's time it was played on neutral territory."

It is said with the air of a man who might quite fancy that as a last hurrah. For now, though, he is concentrating on what could be his finale – although not with the attention to detail you might expect. "You know, I'm not even sure who I'm up against on Sunday night, but say that he's a really good player as well."

Here goes then: Dane Nielsen is a really good player and Keith Senior, late in life, is learning the art of diplomacy.

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