LEGENDARY FORMER stand-off Alan Hardisty is hoping for a Castleford Tigers versus Leeds Rhinos final in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup this year.
Hardisty played for both clubs – who are in semi-final action this weekend – but his heart remains with Castleford.
And he reckons if the dream West Yorkshire final does happen, it will be his hometown team who come away from Wembley with the famous trophy.
Hardisty – rated as the club’s greatest-ever player – captained Castleford to victory in the 1969 and 1970 Challenge Cup finals and was a Wembley runner-up with Leeds in 1972.
“I think Cas and Leeds would be fine,” the 73-year-old said of his hopes for the showpiece event, in two weeks’ time.
“I think that would be right up our street. Leeds seem to be slipping a bit – I don’t think they are the force they once were. I think they are very beatable!”
Hardisty, who starred for Cas from 1958-71, has credited another man with strong Leeds and Castleford connections – coach Daryl Powell – with transforming Tigers’ fortunes since he took over mid-way through last year.
“It is unbelievable,” Hardisty said.
“For two seasons we were down at the bottom and struggling and then suddenly it has turned around.
“The big thing is, it’s the same players we had in the last two years.
“But they are playing well above themselves and that’s down to the coach – he is doing a marvellous job.
“He doesn’t put his best side on the field from the start. He leaves three or four top players on the bench and you think ‘what’s that about’?
“But the idea is to hold them for 20 minutes or half an hour and then put the four power men on and all of a sudden the game livens up, it turns it around and all of a sudden we are going at them.
“I think it’s a terrific way of thinking. The man is a real schemer.”
Hardisty is confident Tigers will overcome Widnes Vikings in tomorrow’s semi-final at Leigh.
But he warned: “Obviously it is a big game and they will be thinking the same as us.
“We have got to start from the first whistle. We can’t afford to be like the last two weeks, when we’ve given them a start. We can’t give them a start this weekend.
“But it would mean a lot if we could get to Wembley. Cas is a rugby town and people live by the game of rugby.
“I used to walk around town and people were saying ‘get your boots on’. That’s a sign we’re not playing well, but that’s forgotten now. You can walk around town with a smile and have some complimentary conversations.”
Hardisty only watches Rhinos on television, but believes their semi-final against Warrington this afternoon is too close to call.
“The way things are going at the moment, all the top sides are getting beaten,” he said.
“You think ‘what’s going off’? I don’t know whether it’s the rotation thing they are all trying to do. That seems a big thing, but sometimes if you don’t get it right you lose something. Daryl has had to do it and he has done it very well.”