Super League Grand Final Preview | 7th October 2017

Rugby league writer Andy Day picks out his best bet from this weekend’s Grand Final.

Super League Grand Final – Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers Saturday 18:00

Here we go, for me, the best annual game in the sporting calendar. This season nine times
finalists Leeds Rhinos take on first time finalists Castleford Tigers at Old Trafford.

Never a game to be without drama, however this season the drama has started with the squad
announcements. More on that later….


Leeds Rhinos

Leeds are regulars at this stage of the competition. Nine times they have been to Old Trafford
and with star half back Danny McGuire leaving at the end of the season, they will be looking
to give the Englishman – who has spent his entire 16-year career at the Rhinos – the perfect
send off.

The Rhinos record at Old Trafford is formidable, in their nine appearances they have won seven
including a 22-20 win over the Wigan Warriors in 2015.

Team news for the Rhinos has been positive, Head Coach Brian McDermott has named an
unchanged squad from last week which means Stevie Ward, despite dislocating his shoulder
and spending Friday night in hospital before going into theatre on Saturday morning, is in.
Tough cookie!

The squad also includes Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Liam Sutcliffe who were denied their
place in the 2015 Grand Final win through injury and will definitely have scores to settle.

Furthermore, like Castleford, the Rhinos have six Grand Final debutantes with Ashton
Golding, Matt Parcell, Brett Ferres, Anthony Mullally and Jack Walker all set to feature.


Castleford Tigers

League winners Castleford have been the in-form team of the season and all eyes will be focused on the Tigers to see how they cope with the pressure of their first Grand Final appearance.

Whilst they are virgins at this stage of the competition they will look to their previous performances against the Rhinos to steady the nerves. They are unbeaten in their last five games against them
including last month’s 38-24 Super 8s win and the early season 66-10 thumping.

In both those games, ex Leeds full back Zak Hardaker was influential and that is where this
week’s drama has begun.

Thursdays squad announcements confirmed rumours that Hardaker had been dropped from the Grand Final squad for ‘breaching club rules’ and his absence is sure to be felt by the Tigers.

Nevertheless, that is the only omission from the Castleford squad that has dominated Super League this season. Greg Eden is expected to be moved to full back with Jy Hitchcox – who has three tries this season despite only playing seven games – coming into the side.


The Verdict

Tough one to call this, and it shouldn’t be any other way in a Final, however I feel the Semi-Finals were good pointers as to how this one could go.

Despite being the leagues leading try scorers (166), most points scored (988) and kicked the most goals (147); Castleford drew 20-20 with a stubborn St Helens side – who like Leeds, the Tigers had comfortably beaten home and away this season – and needed a golden point drop goal in extra time to win the game.

Leeds however, showed all their experience to beat Challenge Cup winners Hull 18-16 and complete a full circle transformation from a team that was playing for their Super League survival this time last season.

I also feel the loss of Hardaker will be substantial. Whilst Man of Steel Luke Gale and Top Try Scorer Greg Eden have made all the headlines this season, Hardaker has been pivotal from his full back position.

He has contributed 11 tries and 18 try assist this season, whilst being the third highest tackle burster which has arguably been his biggest contribution this season. His ability to get the Tigers over the gain line has set the platform for Gale and Eden to score so many points.

Furthermore, leading try scorer Eden – who has scored almost all of his tries from the left wing – will now need to move away from this position which shows how the absence of Hardaker has had a knock-on effect.

For the above reasons, I am pushing towards experience and a Leeds Rhinos win. However,
for some extra value I am looking towards previous Grand Finals.

Seven of the last eight games have had a winning margin of 12 points or less and given the rainy forecast and high intensity the game will be played in; I expect another tight affair.


Andy Day’s Best Bet

Leeds to win by a margin of 1 – 12 points (5/2)