Former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker has sensationally been left out of Castleford Tigers’ squad to face Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford on Saturday following a breach of club rules.
And Rhinos have sprung their own surprise by naming injured forward Stevie Ward in their initial 19.
Hardaker is a three-time Grand Final winner with Leeds and was Man of Steel when they won the treble in 2015, as well as being runner-up this year.
He has had off-field issues in the past, leading to him being left out of England’s 2013 World Cup and dropped by Leeds for a game two years later, but has been in outstanding form this season.
He initially joined Tigers on loan from Rhinos in the closed-season before signed a contract until the end of 2021 in July. He was one of the Tigers players on media duty at Old Trafford to preview the final on Monday.
A Tigers statement said: “Zak Hardaker is unavailable for selection due to a breach of club rules.
“The club will make no further comment at this point as full attention is focused on Saturday’s Grand Final.”
Outside-back Jy Hitchcox has been drafted into Tigers’ squad. Joel Monaghan is also in contention and Oliver Holmes is set to retun from injury, but there is no place for veteran Andy Lynch who will retire after the game.
Ward suffered a dislocated shoulder in Rhinos’ semi-final win over Hull last Friday and appeared to have been ruled out of the Old Trafford showdown.
But he has been named in an unchanged squad and Rhinos say the 23-year-old will be given as long as possible to prove his fitness.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott will select from the 17 who beat Hull, plus full-back Ashton Golding and centre/second-rower Jimmy Keinhorst.
Keinhorst is likely to step into the matchday side if Ward misses out. McDermott’s other major decision is whether to select 18-year-old rookie Jack Walker ahead of Golding at full-back.
Walker was recalled to the team, in place of Golding, last week.
Forwards Keith Galloway (Achilles) and Brett Delaney (hamstring) are the only senior players on Rhinos’ casualty list.
Tigers’ initial 19-man squad is: Cook, Eden, Foster, Gale, Hitchcox, O Holmes, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Monaghan, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Springer, Webster.
Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad is: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Ferres, Mullally, Walker.