James Bentley drove to Old Trafford in a limo with his face painted in Leeds colors during his Rhinos support days and he will fulfill a childhood dream when he finally gets the chance to run at the stadium.
The 24-year-old second rower, who will face his former club St Helens in the 25th Grand Final on Saturday night, was a regular visitor to Manchester United’s home during the glorious run of five wins at Old Trafford in six seasons from 2007 to 2012.
“I had very good memories here when I was a child,” he recalls. “I remember one year in particular, the whole street went, we had a limo and I had my face painted blue and amber.”
Bentley started his professional career with Bradford before joining St Helens in 2018 and finally signing for Leeds at the end of last season.
Saints have achieved a hat-trick of Grand Final wins during their time at Totally Wicked Stadium, but will do their utmost to prevent them from making it a record four in a row on Saturday when he makes his first appearance at Old Trafford. .
Bentley was the 18th man when Saints beat Salford in 2019 and, although he played in the side that beat Wigan 12 months later, he was hosted at the MKM stadium in Hull due to the pandemic.
He then missed Old Trafford’s win last season over the Catalan Dragons after a season out with injury which forced him out of the Challenge Cup win over Castleford and ended when he s Ligaments in his back were torn following an unfortunate tackle by prop Sam. Kasiano at the Magic Weekend.
“I broke my leg, came back from that, then had that crushing tackle incident and missed the final against Wigan which was gutted,” Bentley said.
“But I’m here now and I’m looking forward to the chance to play at Old Trafford.”
Bentley has fond memories of his time with the Saints and admits facing them in the title decider will provide a potential fairy tale ending to his inaugural season at Headingley, although that seemed unlikely when the Rhinos sat at bottom side of the table in April.
“To be 11th and people talking about our relegation to now being in the Grand Final, it’s a very good feeling,” he said.
“With the squad we had there was always a chance, we just weren’t playing well enough together, but we started to come together as a team and we got the ball rolling.
“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, if we got here, who would I want to play against, it would be the Saints. You always want to play against your old club and against familiar faces.
Among the familiar faces will be loose striker Morgan Knowles, who will feature in the final after successfully overturning a two-match ban, and Bentley are delighted with that.
“I’m pretty good pals with Matty Lees and Morgan Knowles so it will be good to fight and face them this week,” he said.
“Obviously you want to play against the best team, so I want to play against Morgan. He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s also a good friend of mine, so I’m preparing for him to play. .
“We had a few jokes after the semi-finals, but we didn’t really talk this week. I will wait to see him there on the pitch.
Leeds’ remarkable turnaround in fortunes mirrored that of Bentley, who was sent off on his debut in February and served two more suspensions until he finally rediscovered his form and discipline under new manager 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 arrived, he has helped me and made me enjoy my rugby, that’s the main thing. When I’m happy, I play well.
“I’ve fixed my discipline which I’m happy with and let my rugby do the talking.”