WHO PLAYS at full-back is the major dilemma facing both coaches ahead of today’s Betfred Super League Grand Final.
Dream Team No1 Zak Hardaker is “unavailable for selection” so Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell will have to shuffle his formidable backline.
In contrast, Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott is facing a choice between outstanding youngsters Jack Walker and Ashton Golding.
Hardaker, runner-up to team-mate Luke Gale for this year’s Steve Prescott Man of Steel award, was axed two days ago due to a “breach of club rules”. The former Rhinos star is one of only four Tigers players with previous Grand Final experience. Another of those, Joel Monaghan, could step in after being an unused member of Tigers’ initial 19-man squad for last week’s semi-final win over St Helens.
Monaghan and Jy Hitchcox, who has been drafted into the squad, can both play at full-back or as a winger, as can Greg Eden. Eden has been switched from the left-wing to full-back for the three games Hardaker has missed this year, including the final round of the Super-8s two weeks ago.
Oliver Holmes is back in contention after a groin injury and could come into the 17. If so, fellow forward Gadwin Springer – an unused substitute last week – is likely to make way.
Andy Lynch, who will retire after today’s game, misses out as does Larne Patrick, a Grand Final runner-up for Wigan against Leeds in 2015.
Michael Shenton, a try scorer when Saints were beaten by Leeds at Old Trafford six years ago, is Tigers’ only other Grand Final veteran.
Meanwhile, both Golding and Walker are included in an unchanged Rhinos 19. Golding was dropped for Leeds’ semi-final win over Hull to make way for Walker.
Rhinos say Stevie Ward, who suffered a dislocated shoulder against Hull eight days ago, has been cleared to play after passing a fitness test yesterday. Jimmy Keinhorst is also in Leeds’ initial 19.
Castleford Tigers: from Cook, Eden, Foster, Gale, Hitchcox, O Holmes, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Monaghan, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Springer, Webster.
Leeds Rhinos: from Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Ferres, Mullally, Walker.
Referee: James Child (Batley).
Kick-off: Tonight, 6pm.