Played at Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday 8 October, 4.00am AEST (Saturday 7 October 6.00pm BST)
After another long season, two teams from the West of Yorkshire will meet to contest the Super League Grand Final in Manchester this weekend.
Castleford Tigers and their big-city rivals Leeds Rhinos will do battle for the fifth time this season in the showpiece event, and the Tigers are holding all the form going into the decider.
The Tigers are making history in reaching their first ever Grand Final, since the club’s inception in 1926. This accompanies their first League Leader’s Shield they claimed earlier in the season, prior to the commencement of the Super 8s stage. They have been hands down the best team in the competition and finished ten points ahead of Leeds, with only five losses from their 30 league matches.
They looked to be cruise mode in the semi-final against Saint Helens before losing their way, and required a drop-goal from Man of Steel (player of the season) winner Luke Gale in golden-point extra time to get them a dramatic 23-22 win and a ticket to the big show.
While Castleford have been the league’s feel-good story of the season, Leeds’ has been one of redemption. Seven-time champions, the most in the league’s history, they slumped to a disappointing ninth place last year and had to make their path to this year’s Super League through the qualifiers. 12 months on and they held off a game Hull FC in a thrilling semi-final by 18-16, to book their place in a record-equalling tenth grand final, alongside Saint Helens.
They do have the big game experience that Castleford do not, and will want to send Rhinos veterans Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire from the club with another league title.
|9 September 2017||Castleford||Leeds||38 – 24|
|24 June 2017||Leeds||Castleford||12 – 23|
|22 May 2017||Castleford||Leeds||29 – 18|
|03 March 2017||Castleford||Leeds||66 – 10|
|13 May 2016||Leeds||Castleford||12 – 52|
In this case the numbers very much tell the story. The Tigers have had the upper hand of the Rhinos all season, winning all four encounters, with an overall streak of eight wins dating back to the 2015 season. The Rhinos’ lowest point of the season came at Castleford when they were hammered 66-10. It has been a reflection of the Tigers’ willingness to throw the ball around and play an attacking brand of football, specifically on the left and right wings. Their last meeting during the Super 8s was also a 1 vs 2 clash, but Castleford’s 30 unanswered points at one stage made for a comfortable 38-24 win and showed there to be one real team heading for the grand final.
Teams are to be confirmed.
Carl Ablett, Tom Briscoe, Rob Burrow, Adam Cuthbertson, Brett Ferres, Mitch Garbutt, Ashton Golding, Ryan Hall Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jimmy Keinhorst, Danny McGuire (c), Joel Moon, Anthony Mullally, Matt Parcell, Brad Singleton, Liam Sutcliffe, Jack Walker, Stevie Ward, Kallum Watkins
Loose-forward Stevie Ward is in doubt after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the semi-final win over Hull, however, coach Brian McDermott will give him as long as possible to prove his fitness.
Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Alex Foster, Luke Gale, Jy Hitchcox, Oliver Holmes, Nathan Massey, Mike McMeeken, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Adam Milner, Greg Minikin, Junior Moors, Joel Monaghan, Ben Roberts, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Michael Shenton (c), Gadwin Springer and Jake Webster
Fullback Zak Hardaker, a key figure in the Tigers’ run to the finals, has been dropped from the squad due to a “breach of club rules”. The 25-year-old has scored 13 tries and made over 3,200 metres, including 126 tackle busts and the Tigers will sorely miss his influence. It is expected Greg Eden will shift to fullback, and either Jy Hitchcox or Joel Monaghan will come onto the wing.
The facts that matter
They have thrilled the masses this season with their exciting style of play and their total of 169 tries is a testament to their ability to move the ball around. They have scored over 62% of their tries in the right and left wing zones, thanks largely to Greg Millikin (19 tries) and Greg Eden, who with 38 tries from 28 games this season, is only two tries behind Denny Solomona’s all-time league record of 40. Their defense has been just as impenetrable, conceding only 97 tries all season (compared to Leeds’ 112) as their big forwards
Luke Gale, the Man of Steel
The 29-year-old Gale has been at the centre of all that has been great about the Tigers this season, and influences all their key plays. The halfback has been instrumental with 13 tries, 20 try assists and a record ten 40/20 kicks this season. He is constantly creating pressure on opposition, as shown by his 146 attacking kicks, and has also kicked the most goals this season, with 129. How Gale responds to the pressure situation of a final will be telling for the Tigers, but if his appearance in the semi-final against the Saints, 16 days after having his appendix was removed, is anything to go by, then he is likely to be fighting to the bitter end.
Man Mountain McMeeken has chance to shine
He stands at 1.95m and weighs over 100kg, so it’s easy to see why his team mates call him “Big Russian”. The 23-year-old has made 726 tackles this season, but moreso it has been his 45 offloads which have been just as effective, gravitating players towards him and then releasing the ball for his much quicker team mates. Intense and strong, it will be interesting to see how the Leeds defense goes up against him.
Leeds’ right and left centre zones have been their most fruitful this season, with 61 of their 131 tries (46%) coming in this area. Their defense up the middle zone has been the best in the league, with 5 of their 112 tries (5%) coming in this area only.
Cuthbertson’s offload overload
Adam Cuthbertson has been a workhorse for the Rhinos this season, with 890 tackles made and nearly 3,500 metres gained. As with McMeeken, his 121 offloads is a sensational input to his performance, and the Tigers forwards will need to make sure they put him all the way to the ground to ensure no late releases come from his grasp, as the loose-forward has done ever so often through the season.
Could Parcell have a field day?
Matt Parcell’s work at hooker has been solid this season for the Rhinos, being the team’s top try scorer with 17 so far this season, alongside 16 try-assists. If his forwards can give him something to work with, then he’ll have the room he likes to run the ball as he so often has this season, with 190 dummy half runs. Almost 1,800 metres from the dummy position tells you part of the story, and if he is given space through the ruck, the field might be his. His match-up against opposite Paul McShane could be intriguing.
There’s no such thing as a deserved winner in rugby league until you have won, but is there room for fairy tales?
Castleford’s attack has been blistering this season, however, the loss of Hardaker is an issue that Daryl Powell would rather not deal with, given the form of his wingers. It means Gale will have to front up with a big job on Saturday night, but I think he has it in him.
On the other hand, Leeds have been here nine times over, won it for seven, and have the experience of the big match occasion. They will look to Burrow and McGuire’s last game for the Rhinos as inspiration for one last push.
However, Castleford have been the most consistent side of the competition, and I think they will win this one by 12.
Who will win the UK Super League Grand Final? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?