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Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos Super League Grand Final 2017
It has to be said that the Grand Final is always a stand out occasion in the Rugby League season but sometimes it can be a caser of same again but that isn’t the case this season as we have the Castleford Tigers, playing in their 1st ever Grand Final, meeting the Leeds Rhinos, who were fighting for their lives in the Qualifiers last season.
No one can argue that that these 2 West Yorkshire rivals don’t deserve to be in the 2017 Super League Grand Final as the Castleford Tigers have been the all-conquering Tigers so far, this season after finishing top of the regular season and top of the Qualifiers. The Rhinos bounced back from last season and from a heavy away loss at the Tigers early on in the season to finish second in the league.
The Super League play offs were amongst the closest and exciting in the history of the Super League with the Tigers scraping through with a drop goal in extra time against Saints whilst Leeds had a similarly close game in their 2-point win over Hull FC.
With just over a week to recover for both teams all thoughts now turn to the Grand Final and the recovery needed from both after those semi-finals that were played at an intensity and speed that the winner of the Grand Final will not only have to match but will somehow have to find a way to eclipse.
Leeds are of course a club who have been there and done it when it comes to Grand Final whilst this is a new experience for the Cas Tigers as a club and for many of their players individually but they have been a Challenge Cup final recently and proved that they will never give up in their semi-final performance.
It does have to be said that against Saints the Tigers didn’t play with the same freedom as they have for the rest of the season and whether that was down to nerves or down to a game plan, they will have to show the creativity in attack they have become famed for to break down the Rhinos.
For Leeds it will be a case of doing what they do best, control the pace of the game and defend for their lives in what is set to be a fascinating match up and one that is a must watch not only for Rugby League fans but sporting fans in general.
Castleford have won 8 of their 10 matches and as mentioned scraped through their Play-Off Semi-Final by a single point after giving up a 10-point lead in the last 10 minutes. To draw level in the dying seconds and then keeping their nerve to pick up the win, the team many have backed as the favourites for the Super League crown showed that they have a lot of grit and determination to go with the flair they have showed.
The Rhinos have won 6 of their last 8 and 5 of their last 6 to make it through to the 2017 Super League Grand Final. They too showed a lot of grit in the Semi-Final to hold out the comeback from Hull FC and it was pleasing to see some of their youngster players step up.
With Leeds much changed since their last Grand Final and with Castleford having a number of players never to have experienced a match such as this, the winner may not come from the team bring the best form into the game but from the team with the players that can handle their nerves and the experience the best.
The headline news for the 2017 Super League Grand Final is the omission by the Castleford Tigers of Zak Hardaker, due to a “Break of Club Rules” and whilst the ramifications of that for Hardaker could be huge and he will surly regret missing Saturday for the rest of his life, the impact on the Tigers is yet to be seen.
Castleford have added both Oliver Holmes and Jy Hitchcox to the squad that defeated the Saints in such dramatic circumstances last time out in the play-off semi-final.
Leeds have taken the decision to name Stevie Ward in their squad despite the England forward leaving the field in their semi-final over Hull FC with a dislocated shoulder. That has allowed the Rhinos to name an unchanged squad and whilst doctors have cleared Ward after treatment in hospital on Friday night, it will be interesting to see if he will be fit enough to make the final match day squad.
The Super League Grand Final is the best versus the best in the Super League over a full season of matches to determine the Champions and as it should be this match is incredibly difficult to predict, with both teams having major plusses and minuses as to why they should win or lose the match.
In what is one of the most anticipated finals for some years and with a sell-out already assured, we are all set for a fantastic showcase of our wonderful sport and one that is simply a must watch.
Castleford have the flair to open up any side and have shown the belief throughout the season that they can take on and defeat anybody, including the Rhinos who they have defeated home and away all season.
Up until the news of Zak Hardaker been dropped broke we would have had the Tigers has the standout favourites due to the confidence they have in general but also in the belief they have that they can take on and defeat the Rhinos.
Unfortunately for the Tigers and their fans, no matter how professional they are- and will be- losing such key players in surprise circumstances right on the eve of the Grand Final will impact them.
He is key in both defence and attack and the Tigers will have to find a way to solve the impact and their plyers will have to find a way to deal with the experience.
The Rhinos do have the extra experience of playing in Grand Finals but they do have 6 players making their debut in a Grand Final with Liam Sutcliffe, Ashton Golding, Matt Parcell, Brett Ferres, Anthony Mullally and Jack Walker experiencing Old Trafford for the first time.
That should allow the Rhinos to make the stronger start and if they can take an early lead they have shown that when they are ahead they one of the strongest leaders in Super League and in a match, such as this where defences step up yet another level, the already difficult to break down Rhinos could prove impregnable.
Thankfully whilst the Rhinos have one of the strongest defence that has continued to improve throughout the season the Tigers have the strongest and most varied attack that the Super League has seen in a long time or perhaps even in its entirety.
So long as the Tigers can maintain their focus on the job ahead, we are going to back them for the win as not only will be the most deserved winners after dominating all season but on their day, they are head and shoulders above everybody else and if they play to their best, the Rhinos will simply not have an answer.
We do expect a close match and it is one that could easily go either way but over the last 20 minutes or so of the match we expect the Tigers to let rip and pull away to the win.
Our Prediction: Castleford Tigers by 8
Agree or disagree with us? Put your money where your mouth is!