Our YEP Jury have their say on the 2017 Grand Final.
I’m usually full of nerves before a big game, but for the semi-final I was actually really calm.
I’m not sure if that was a confidence that Leeds Rhinos would win or an acceptance that the game could quite easily go either way, and that whichever team made it to the Grand Final at Old Trafford would fully deserve to do so.
Thankfully, we were the lucky team who edged out a closely fought contest to book our place in the Grand Final – a feeling that never gets old.
The beauty of this Saturday’s final is that most expect us to lose!
So the pressure is off.
Castleford have beaten us in eight consecutive meetings, including four times this season, so the expectation is on them to do it again. Therefore, we are free to concentrate on our game and use our knowledge of finals to, hopefully, spoil the Tigers’ party.
I’m not saying we will win, but I think we have a better chance than many are giving us.
After the golden-point excitement of the Castleford versus Saints semi-final last Thursday, Leeds and Hull had a lot to live up to.
The game was high paced from start to finish with both teams fighting hard for the spot in the final.
In the end, Leeds held on to the lead and came away with the coveted spot, a feat that could not have been possible without excellent performances all round.
Stand-out players included captain Danny McGuire, who had what felt like a solo battle against Hull’s Mark Minichiello all game and clearly came off the better.
Leeds can be commended not just on the tries scored but those saved. The defence on the line was exemplary and held out to determined Hull attackers when it was most needed.
The price of such a display was found in that of Stevie Ward. He will almost certainly miss the game with a dislocated shoulder.
He deserves to be present in this week’s final not just for how he played on Friday but the whole season.
Wow! If you’d asked me at any point this season if I fancied Leeds to reach the Grand Final I would have replied, emphatically, no chance.
Despite reaching second place in Super League and a Challenge Cup semi-final, Leeds’ performances by and large have left me cold. But it’s testament to the resilience of this group of players that they pulled out their best performance when it mattered against Hull FC last week.
I’ve written in the past about my disappointment of the ‘we’ll win when it matters’ mentality at the club as I watch them week in and week out.
But another Grand Final appearance has to be celebrated. However, it means nothing without a victory; the ultimate goal is to win the trophy.
Castleford have very little Grand-Final experience, and as they walk out at Old Trafford under the lights, will they be able to cope with the pressure?
This Leeds Rhinos team has dozens of winners’ medals and should be able to handle the pressure, which, for me, gives us the edge.
In future, play-off semi-finals should come with a government health warning saying ‘not for the faint hearted’.
Both games last weekend were undecided until the bitter end, much to the delight of the commentators on Sky TV.
St Helens were unlucky to lose as they seemed the better team against Cas’, whilst in the Leeds v Hull game, the momentum swung backwards and forwards with neither team managing to dominate the other.
All seemed lost until a fine finish by Liam Sutcliffe restored the home team’s advantage.
The win, however, was marred by yet another injury to Stevie Ward. How unlucky can you be? So, back to Old Trafford in what is a local derby match against our nemesis, Castleford. Can we finally beat them this time out?
I suppose it depends on how we approach the game.
Both Saints and Hull have shown the way in that they prevented Cas’ getting momentum and closed down their offensive play.
Not always pretty, but quite effective.
Remarkably, Leeds have fallen over the line and made it to the Grand Final.
Much of this credit falls to the departing Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire as they’ve hit form just at the right time.
Now that we’ve made the final, I hope the team hasn’t burned itself out. Leeds looked out on their feet for long periods against Hull FC, perhaps as the crazy substitution policy we’ve seen all season comes to fruition.
Gary Hetherington [Leeds Rhinos’ chief executive] seems to think the 66-10 thrashing back in March was a blip, but we haven’t looked like beating Castleford all season (not to mention some other pitiable performances), which is poor given the superior resources available.
The poor overall quality of the competition has flattered our distant second position and in most years, we’d be mid-table.
Winning the Grand Final will be a massive challenge made yet tougher still by Stevie Ward’s injury.
Having said that, the way the competition is structured, you only need be lucky once …