The Play-offs - Part 3
So here it is - the final week of the domestic professional rugby league season. It now comes down to just one game and a winner-takes-all Grand Final at Old Trafford. The winners will lift the Super League trophy and for the losers it will be so near, yet so far.
When you look at it like that it’s a strange scenario in many ways. There’s been lots of talk already this week of the structure of the game in this country, not just the unwanted impact a defeat in the Million Pound Game can have on a club, but the frustration as to why the league champions will be decided after a one-off game.
Many neutral supporters would side with the argument that it would be a crying shame if Castleford didn’t win this match after finishing in first place so convincingly after 30 rounds.
But on the other hand, Leeds have their supporters and will be up for this, no question, and have the added bonus of previous Grand Final experiences behind them. This will be the Rhinos’ record-equalling tenth appearance in the season-ending showpiece, and having won the title in seven out of their nine visits already, the most successful side in Super League will be confident of victory against the inexperienced Tigers.
Some pundits are claiming Castleford will win comfortably but I can’t see that happening. For me it’ll be a close call and one that could be won right at the death.
To call the Tigers inexperienced is probably doing them a disservice as the experience of winning the League Leaders Shield should stand them in good stead. Also knowing that they have beaten Leeds four times already this season will be in the back of their minds and would love to make it five from five.
Daryl Powell’s side have been a revelation in Super League this season. Since their opening night victory over Warrington Wolves in Round One they’ve kicked on stronger than ever and have been a joy to watch at times. They were predicted to finish high but nobody expected them to finish top and by so many points.
Back to Saturday’s game and Castleford have by far the stronger of the two squads. Luke Gale has been outstanding all season and should win the Man of Steel Award in my opinion. He has stiff competition from team mate Zak Hardaker who will come up against his former club in Leeds.
Either one of those two could claim the Harry Sunderland Trophy. No Castleford payer has ever won that award either so to win both trophies would crown a special season for the Tigers. This would also be a great opportunity for Mike McMeeken and Greg Minikin to shine.
On a side note, depending on how well England perform at the World Cup at the end of this year we may be seeing calls for Powell to be given the England role – for me, anything but an appearance in the World Cup Final would be a failure, so watch out Wayne Bennett.
The most successful side in the Super League era have enjoyed a fantastic turnaround since the disappointing showing last season. The 2015 treble winners suffered badly following the departure of the ‘holy trinity’ from the squad in Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.
They were big names to try and replace and the same can be said of this season’s pending departures of Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow. It will be interesting to see how they handle that next year.
Because of the two players named above I wouldn’t put it past Leeds to send them out on a high as the club did for the Sinfield and co. in 2015. Brian McDermott was practically moved to tears after the Semi Final victory over Hull FC last weekend and it was a fantastic performance from his players.
As for the other members of the squad, winger Ryan Hall will almost certainly score a try or two, as he always does on the big stage. Excellent performances will be required from both Kallum Watkins and Jamie Jones-Buchanan if the Rhinos are to overcome what could be a rampant Tigers performance.
My Prediction: Castleford Tigers by 6+ points
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