LEEDS RHINOS upset the odds by beating table-toppers Castleford Tigers 24-6 in the Betfred Super League Grand Final – here’s where the game was won and lost.
1: Big match experience. Rhinos went into the final with 39 Grand Final winners’ rings between them. Tigers had none and it showed. Old Trafford is Leeds’ stage and they handled the occasion much better. Tigers were nervy, made far too many errors and never got into their stride. For Leeds, it looked like another day at the office.
2: Key players. Tigers’ main men – Ben Roberts, Luke Gale and Paul McShane – have been outstanding all year, but were outplayed. Danny McGuire produced a vintage performance, half-back partner Joel Moon set up two tries and Matt Parcell justified his Dream Team selection and proved he was this year’s best signing.
3: Kicking game. That was an area in which Tigers were expected to dominate, but Leeds – rookie Jack Walker and supposed weak link Tom Briscoe in particular – dealt with everything Gale threw at them. It is supposedly an Achilles heel, but three of Leeds tries came from kicks, all by different players.
4: The battle up front. Rhinos always felt their pack could be more than a match for Tigers’ forwards and so it proved. Brad Singleton has ended the season in outstanding form and Mitch Garbutt has been one of the year’s unsung stars. Both had big games and were well supported by the rest of the pack, which allowed Leeds’ halves to do their thing. Cas’ forwards had a collective off day.
5: Pre-match setbacks and bonuses. Dream Team full-back Zak Hardaker is one of the best players in Super League and his absence – over a breach of club rules – was a huge blow to Tigers. In contrast, Leeds’ Stevie Ward made an astonishing recovery from a dislocated shoulder and that lifted the entire team.