Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Popular prop Barrie McDermott, axed for this year's Challenge Cup final, will get the chance to make up for the disappointment by bringing the curtain down on his colourful domestic career in Saturday's engage Super League Grand Final.
After losing his place for the cup final, McDermott faced an anxious wait to discover if the same fate was to befall him.
But coach Tony Smith admitted on Tuesday that the former Great Britain international remains central to his team's plans to successfully defend their crown.
"Between now and Saturday he'd have to do something pretty drastic in training to rule himself out," said Smith, who is likely to name the team that beat St Helens 19-16 in the qualifying semi-final.
"I'd love for each and every player that finishes with the club to go out on the best note. Dave Furner did it last year and it was terrific for him. It would be nice if Barrie could finish his career on such a high note but it's not really the motivation for the team."
The Millennium Stadium clash with Hull was only the fourth match McDermott has missed this season.
The former Oldham and Wigan player has made a total of 339 appearances, 282 of them for the Rhinos, in a career stretching over a period of 15 years.
"I'm obviously delighted to be writing my own script," he said. "To be given the chance to go out on such a high is fantastic and I'm thrilled to bits. A lot of players a lot better than me don't get the chance to go out in a big game."
McDermott, who won 15 caps with Great Britain, believes he has another year left in him as a player but rejected a host of offers in favour of joining the backroom staff at Headingley.
"I gave Leeds an option but they declined," he said. "They wanted to go in a different direction and I decided that I'd rather retire than go to another club. The challenges in front of me are now as a coach and looking forward to it.
"I had lots of offers, in Super League and National League, and that was a terrific compliment but I have so much respect for the people at Headingley and I'm thrilled to bits to be given the chance to start under one of the best coaches I've had in my career.
"It's more important to me for people to say I could have played again than to say I shouldn't have played that extra year.
"The regard that I'm held in now is very important to me and I want to go out the best way with dignity and integrity.
"I think the best scenario is go out with a Grand Final winners' ring in my hand at Old Trafford."
Win or lose on Saturday, that Wembley triumph will be McDermott's abiding memory, far outweighing the disappointment of missing out in Cardiff six weeks ago.
"You set out at 17 years of age with a list of things to achieve and I've ticked all the boxes and more besides so I have no complaints whatsoever," he said.
"I've some fantastic highs and days when I've not stopped smiling. On the other side I've learned some pretty harsh lessons and it's taught me a lot about myself. I've grown as a person, the deeper into my career I've gone.
"In Cardiff I had to become very selfless and think about the others around me and put the team first. Certainly, as I go into coaching, I can stand before a bloke and say this is what I expect from you because I've been there on more than one occasion."
Smith insists sentiment will play no part in his team selection for Old Trafford but he admits to being impressed by McDermott's stoical reaction to being dropped for Cardiff.
"This team has been picked on form from the moment I got here," he said. "Reputations don't mean a whole lot.
"Barrie understood that and he actually put his hand up and realised he was in that position from his performance the week before. He showed what a star he is by being very professional about it."