OLD TRAFFORD is preparing for Super League’s first all-West Yorkshire Grand Final since 2005 – here are five talking points from Leeds Rhinos’ semi-final victory against Hull FC.
1: For various reasons Stevie Ward is one of the most admirable men in rugby league, but he’s also among the unluckiest. He missed much of the 2013 season due to a shoulder injury, sat out the 2015 Grand Final after rupturing knee ligaments two weeks earlier and is a major doubt for Saturday’s showpiece because of a dislocated shoulder suffered against Hull. Ward was coach Brian McDermott’s third-choice for player of the season and Leeds are a much better team when he plays. Options to replace him are limited, so Rhinos will be hoping Brett Ferres’ problem knee came through the semi-final unscathed.
2: McDermott has never really won the Leeds fans over, despite being the club’s most successful coach. This week will be his fourth Grand Final in seven seasons and if Rhinos win it will be his greatest achievement given where the team were a year ago. All along he has been adamant they could get to Old Trafford, so credit to him for that.
3: Leeds will have to play better than they did against Hull to have any chance of beating Tigers. They started off at a blistering pace, but dropped away either side of half-time and can’t afford to do that at Old Trafford. The positive is Rhinos are going into the final in probably their best run of form this year.
4: It is fitting Rhinos legends Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire will bow out at Old Trafford. They are two of the finest players in the club’s history and both outstanding individuals off the field.
5: Of the likely Grand Final referees, Leeds have won eight of their nine games with James Child in charge this year, two out of five with Phil Bentham and four from seven refereed by Ben Thaler.