THEY have won difficult games without two of their main stars before so Oli Holmes sees no reason why Castleford Tigers cannot shrug off the shock absence of Zak Hardaker in tomorrow’s Super League Grand Final.
The England full-back, only pipped to Man of Steel by club-mate Luke Gale on Tuesday night, was sensationally dropped for the showpiece by head coach Daryl Powell yesterday following an unspecified breach of club rules.
It is undoubtedly a significant blow for the League Leaders’ Shield winners as they face Leeds Rhinos in the biggest game in the club’s 91-year history at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, second-row Holmes maintains they will be ready to press on and are confident of overcoming the surprise loss of such a crucial player.
“Before our game with Wigan recently, Sam Tomkins was saying we haven’t proven ourselves in big games,” he said, referring to the Warriors full-back.
“But we went there and won that game without both our half-backs Luke Gale and Benny Roberts.
There can’t have been any better preparation for this Saturday either than that semi-final we had against Saints last week.Oli Holmes
“There can’t have been any better preparation for this Saturday either than that semi-final we had against Saints last week.
“Battling back from behind twice, taking it into extra-time and winning again, scraping through when we needed it most. That’s given us confidence. We’re all looking forward to this.”
The timely return of Holmes will be a bonus for Powell, the hard-hitting forward having missed that epic semi-final against St Helens with a groin problem.
Jy Hitchcox has been drafted into Castleford’s 19-man squad, the 28-year-old Australian who has played just nine games for the Tigers this term.
With prolific winger Greg Eden expected to switch to full-back in Hardaker’s absence, Hitchcox or veteran ex-Kangaroo Joel Monaghan are the options out wide for Powell.
Holmes, 25, said: “Jy’s been named in the 19 and I’d expect him to play now.
“He’s been class for us whenever he’s come in and is always a bundle of energy.
“He’s good defensively, is a strong runner and now there’s an opportunity for him to grab with both hands.
“He’ll have been guessing he wasn’t going to play but, if he does now, fair play to him.”
Holmes conceded he was sweating on his own place after that troublesome injury.
“I was nervous,” he said.
“When I first did my groin in that game at Wigan, that had been my first game back after originally tweaking it.
“But I’d torn it the second time so it was a nervous wait.
“There was a couple of days before I had a scan and could see the extent of the damage that had been done.
“I did originally hope to get back for the semi and I was there or thereabouts but it probably would have been a risk to play.
“‘Powelly’ decided not to risk it and I just hoped we’d win to get to the final.
“The boys did the job but I was saying to myself I hope I get back in – there’s always the chance that might not happen!”
Pontefract-born Holmes – who scored a try in the 2014 Challenge Cup final loss to Leeds – has missed large chunks of the campaign with earlier knee problems making just nine appearances himself.
However, with his defensive prowess particularly, he strengthens Castleford considerably and he is expected to start with Alex Foster dropping to the bench.
As Castleford go in search of their first ever league title, Holmes admitted: “It will be the greatest day in the club’s history if we do win and, having been part of the club since I signed as a 16-year-old in 2008 and seen what it’s been through, it would be just amazing.
“It will be one of the best days of my life and a remarkable achievement for the club, coaches, players and staff.”