PROP-FORWARD BRAD Singleton is delighted Leeds Rhinos have proved their critics wrong, but devastated for a luckless team-mate.
The 24-year-old produced an outstanding performance in Rhinos’ 18-16 Betfred Super League semi-final win over Hull, which was marred by a serious injury to second-rower Stevie Ward.
Ward, who missed the 2015 Grand Final after rupturing knee ligaments two weeks earlier, is a major doubt for Saturday’s showdown with Castleford Tigers due to a dislocated shoulder.
Singleton did play in the title-clinching win over Wigan Warriors two years ago, but also suffered through the disappointment of last year when Leeds finished ninth in the table and had to battle against relegation in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
He said that experience has made returning to the title decider – Leeds’ 10th in total and fourth in seven seasons under coach Brian McDermott – even sweeter, but Ward’s injury took much of the gloss off.
“From the depths of last year – and the ridicule – it is emotional,” he said. “It is big for this group – there are certain individuals who got dragged through it, but my thoughts are with Stevie Ward.
My thoughts are with Stevie Ward. He is a very unlucky fella and he is an absolute warrior. He performs every week and we wouldn’t be where we are without him. I am hoping for a miracle and he can get out thereBrad Singleton
“He is a very unlucky fella and he is an absolute warrior. He performs every week and we wouldn’t be where we are without him. I am hoping for a miracle and he can get out there. My thoughts are with him.”
Assessing what Rhinos have achieved this year, Singleton said: “I think when certain personnel left in 2015 people said we’d never get to another Grand Final or be a big team again. We have proved a lot of people wrong and we’ve done that all year, finishing second.
“People say the calibre of the league’s not right, but we have to play what’s out in front of us.
“We have and we’ve finished second in the league and now we’re at Old Trafford, but the job is not done.
“We have got a bigger job ahead of us and we are all aware of that. We are not celebrating that [semi-final] win, because we are focusing on this week.”
Saturday’s showpiece will be Rhinos’ fifth meeting of the year with Tigers. So far Castleford have held a dominant upper hand, winning 66-10, 29-18, 23-12 and 38-24.
The aggregate score is 156-64 against Rhinos, but Singleton reckons they can turn the tables on the biggest stage, if they all perform to their potential.
“We are a confident bunch,” he said. “Every time we have played them we’ve given them a five or six out of 10 game. What we need to do is give them a nine or 10 out of 10 game – right across the board from the word go – and we have to respect the ball.
“I don’t think that has ever been done against them by us.”
Former Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker is the only member of Tigers’ squad with a Grand Final winner’s ring, though Michael Shenton played for St Helens when they lost to Leeds at Old Trafford in 2011.
Singleton said Rhinos’ Grand Final experience will help them “to a degree”, but he warned: “It is just a patch of grass.
“It is absolutely massive – it is a big occasion for every fan and it’s great to have that many people there, but at the end of the day it is 13 blokes against 13 on a patch of grass and we’ve got to get the better of them.”
Singleton was recalled for the semi-final after being rested when Rhinos won at Huddersfield Giants in their previous game.
He turned in a barnstorming performance, helping create one try and having two touchdowns rule out, but played down his individual contribution.
He said: “In the middle it’s just a matter of doing your role. Sometimes a man of the match might come from it, but I am there to do my bit.
“Thankfully I did my bit [on Friday] and it is just good to be back at Old Trafford.”