James Bentley ready to fulfil boyhood dream in Super League Grand Final

·4-min read
The Leeds Rhinos second rower (right) will line up against St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday  (Getty Images)
The Leeds Rhinos second rower (right) will line up against St Helens at Old Trafford on Saturday (Getty Images)

James Bentley travelled to Old Trafford in a limousine with his face painted in Leeds colours during his Rhinos-supporting days and he will fulfil a boyhood dream when he finally gets the chance to run out at the stadium.

The 24-year-old second rower, who will go up against his old club St Helens in the 25th Grand Final on Saturday evening, was a regular visitor to the home of Manchester United during Leeds’ glorious run of five Old Trafford victories in six seasons from 2007-12.

“I had some really good memories here as a kid,” he recalled. “I remember one year in particular, all the street went, we had a limo and I had my face painted blue and amber.”

Bentley began his professional career with Bradford before going on to join St Helens in 2018 and finally signing for Leeds at the end of last season.

Saints completed a hat-trick of Grand Final wins during his time at the Totally Wicked Stadium but he will be doing his utmost to prevent them making it a record four in a row on Saturday, when he will make his first playing appearance at Old Trafford.

Bentley was 18th man when Saints beat Salford in 2019 and, although he played in the team that pipped Wigan 12 months later, it was staged at Hull’s MKM Stadium due to the pandemic.

He then missed last season’s Old Trafford victory over Catalans Dragons after an injury-hit season, which forced him to sit out the Challenge Cup win over Castleford and was ended when he ruptured ligaments in his back as a result of an unfortunate tackle from prop Sam Kasiano at the Magic Weekend.

“I broke my leg, came back from that and then had that crusher tackle incident and missed the final against Wigan which was gutting,” Bentley said.

“But I’m here now and buzzing to get the chance to play at Old Trafford.”

Bentley has fond memories of his time at Saints and admits facing them in the title decider will provide a potential fairytale finish to his inaugural season at Headingley, although there seemed little prospect of that when the Rhinos were sitting next to bottom of the table in April.

“From being 11th and people talking about us getting relegated to now being in the Grand Final, it’s a pretty good feeling,” he said.

“With the team we had, there was always a chance, we just weren’t playing together well enough but then we started coming together as a team and got that ball rolling.

“If you’d have asked me at the start of the year, if we got here who would I want to play against, it would be Saints. You always want to play against your old club and against some familiar faces.”

Among the familiar faces will be loose forward Morgan Knowles, who will play in the final after successfully overturning a two-match ban, and Bentley is delighted about that.

“I’m pretty good mates with Matty Lees and Morgan Knowles so it will be good to get into battle and go against them this week,” he said.

“Obviously you want to play against the best team so I want to be playing against Morgan. He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s a good mate of mine as well so I’m made up for him to be playing.

“We had a little bit of banter after the semis but we’ve not really spoken this week. I’ll wait until I see him out there on the pitch.”

Leeds’ remarkable turnaround in fortunes has mirrored that of Bentley, who was sent off on his debut in February and served two further suspensions until eventually rediscovering his form and discipline under new coach Rohan Smith.

“I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing at the start of the year,” he said. “I was getting frustrated with myself.

“But since Rohan came in, he’s helped me and got me enjoying my rugby, which is the main thing. When I’m happy, I’m playing well.

“I’ve fixed up my discipline which I’m happy with and letting my rugby do the talking.”