A long and arduous Super League season comes to a close with the showpiece Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday evening. Fittingly the two best teams in the competition meet under the Manchester floodlights to determine the champions when the Castleford Tigers host the Leeds Rhinos.
There are storylines everywhere you look ahead of this Grand Final and whoever comes out on top will make careers and break careers for those on the opposite end. Throw into the mix that this is a Yorkshire derby and we have a potentially compelling clash awaiting us.
If there is any justice in sport then the Castleford Tigers will win this Grand Final. Unfortunately for them those sorts of things are never given away cheaply. They have to be earned and Cas will have to go out and do just that. They have been the best side in Super League all season though. The question comes in whether they can handle the occasion.
To be fair to the Tigers they managed to claw themselves out of a real hole in the semi-final against St Helens last week, triumphing in the first ever period of Golden Point in the Super League era. If they are to win this final we will need to see that dynamic, free flowing, fast attack and Luke Gale’s kicking game will be crucial.
We saw just last week how hard this season has been for the Leeds Rhinos. The emotion of it all broke through their coach Brian McDermott. The first question from that is did they climb Everest last week? If they did that is not good. If they have one more performance in them then experience alone could guide them home.
Leeds know how to win Grand Finals. Nobody knows more than them how to win these things. Old Trafford is like a second home to them but they have struggled with this Castleford unit all season. Now would be a cracking time to overcome all that. Leeds will need to dominate through their pack as they look inferior everywhere else.
The big news going into this match is Daryl Powell’s amazing and brave decision to drop Zak Hardaker for a breach of club rules. Greg Eden is set to fill in at full-back with Joel Monaghan the most likely contender for the left wing spot.
Danny Maguire and Rob Burrow will be playing their final matches for Leeds in this Grand Final. The latter will be playing the last match of his career in the contest. Stevie Ward has amazingly been named in the 19 despite dislocating his shoulder last week. If he plays it would be every bit as incredible as Luke Gale playing last week.
I’ve not looked forward to a Grand Final as much as this in ages. The odds have begun to close up a little since Zak Hardaker’s demise broke but I still think Castleford Tigers win this match and the sentimental side of me hopes they will too but whether they will cover the cap I’m not sure. It simply cannot be ignored that they have won the last eight matches against Leeds. They have a formula and a pattern of play that the Rhinos simply can’t handle.
Most judges seem to think this final will be low scoring but I’m not convinced. I think we will see a real show here. The rain is not ideal from a point perspective but we have some really skilful players. Castleford open defences up at will and I’m unsure theirs will take as much opening as it would have with Hardaker in it. I think both attacks line up pretty well here. Their four meetings this season have totalled 76, 47, 35 and 62pts. 34.5pts looks a line very much achievable. I’m on the over in what could be a special night.
I can’t just have one bet in the Grand Final though so there are a couple of anytime try scorer punts to go with. Given that I’m not completely sure Monaghan will have the left wing berth I’m going to take the centre that side in Cas’ skipper Michael Shenton. We know Castleford’s game plan. We’ve seen Tom Briscoe look uneasy under the high ball all season. Castleford will pepper him with kicks and in open play they attack down that left religiously. I wouldn’t put people off backing Monaghan if he starts but the 11/4 on Shenton to go over on the same side looks big.
Matt Parcell has been a big reason why the Leeds Rhinos are in this Grand Final. He is their leading try scorer this season and if big night nerves kick in for Castleford or they switch off at any point he will threaten their line from dummy half. Only seven men in Super League have more tries than him this season and with the wider pitch at Old Trafford meaning there will be more space I expect him to cross the line at some point.
Back Over 34.5pts for a 6/10 stake at 1.80 with Skybet
Back M.Shenton to score anytime for a 2/10 stake at 3.75 with Boylesports
Back M.Parcell to score anytime for a 2/10 stake at 4.00 with Boylesports
Back them here: