Two-time Grand Final winner Ian Millward previews this year's Super League showpiece and says Castleford can overcome Zak Hardaker's absence
Castleford (-4) v Leeds (Saturday, 1800 BST, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event)
There’s no getting away from it, Zak Hardaker will be a massive loss for Castleford. He’s been a rock to rely on defensively and attacking-wise.
In a team which has been a country mile the best in Super League, he’s been disciplined on the field all year and full-back is one of the main areas to gain as many yards as possible. He does that with kick returns or coming out of rucks.
One big factor which will be missed is his experience of playing internationals and at Old Trafford previously. In a team that is pretty inexperienced in big games like this, his presence was going to be very, very positive for Cas.
I’d expect Greg Eden to move to full-back and Joel Monaghan to come in on the wing. He’s an experienced player and a prolific tryscorer himself.
The Hardaker news tips the scales towards Leeds a bit but I’m still going to stick with my original opinion that Castleford will win this game.
There are good reasons and many still remain.
Cas definitely haven’t been as consistent or as ruthless in the last few weeks but having said that they have won the last eight in a row against Leeds, including four this year.
Tigers v Rhinos in 2017
March - Castleford 66-10 Leeds
May - Castleford 29-18 Leeds
June - Leeds 12-23 Castleford
September - Castleford 38-24 Leeds
In those eight games, Cas have had the ability to break down the Leeds defence quite easily and create tries.
When Leeds have won Grand Finals at Old Trafford, their simple formula has been to make dummy-half runs and kick to the corners to win field position. That’s the way to win the game.
However, Cas have that ability to break them down and it’s notable that they have made 125 more tackle breaks this season than Leeds.
I think the game will be a low-scoring affair. The total points line is set at 38.5 and going under that mark looks the way to go. This is not only due to the weather - the Grand Final is often played on a wet or dewy night and rain is forecast again - but the high intensity and pressure that will be in the game.
Also, neither side is playing at the top of their game right now. Cas were lucky to beat St Helens, conceding five ties and only scoring three. Saints were the better team in the game but didn’t win. Leeds also looked vulnerable as they beat Hull in the other semi, but only just.
In terms of the other team news, there are a couple of notable advantages for the Tigers.
Oliver Holmes in their back row will return and he’s their best defensive player, who also creates and works really hard off the ball.
On the other hand, Leeds will be missing Brett Delaney from their back row. I’d also expected Stevie Ward to miss out and although he’s been named in the squad you wonder whether he can be risked given his dislocated shoulder only occurred last week.
I’m not sure if the Leeds pack is as good as the St Helens pack and Castleford’s Luke Gale will have the far superior kicking game.
I expect him to be man of the match if Cas win and he looks a worthy favourite in that market, especially with Hardaker now being out.
I’d anticipated that Greg Eden would be the first tryscorer but with the potential positional change, it will be worth looking to see exactly how Cas line up in terms of a bet there.
It is usually Eden’s side they look to go to and in this match-up that’s also the opposite side to Ryan Hall which makes the first try more likely to come from that flank – if you are going to kick you aren’t going to kick to Hall.
One factor Cas will need to deal with is the inexperience one. Ten of Leeds’ players have played in a Grand Final before. It looks like only Monaghan will have that under his belt on the Cas side.
If Leeds are to cause the upset, I think Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, both in their final game for the club and with a lot of emotion, have to step up. It’s a great opportunity for them to go out as winners.
They have to provide a very simple game, as Kevin Sinfield did for quite a few years, and direct them around the pitch. They must have composure and have the best kicking game on the field. That will be difficult with Gale in opposition.
Another player who could cause a few problems is Matt Parcell, their hooker. He can make a lot of runs from dummy-half which is one way of breaking up the Cas defence – a simple method which is low risk but one which could cause problems.
For Castleford, all the talk has been about Gale – and now Hardaker – but Grant Millington in the front row has caused a few problems and is one to watch. He has the ability to off-load the ball and is going to have to stand up to the Leeds pack. He’s been a bit of an unsung, quiet hero.
Overall, I still see Cas winning, although whether they can cover the start, I’m not sure. With that in mind, getting with them to win by a small margin looks a decent play. You can get 6/1 (Sky Bet) about them winning by 1-5 points.
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Posted at 1540 BST on 05/10/17.