Talking RL: Grand Final is on the flip of a coin

Many pundits and fans say this year's Grand Final is too tight to call
Many pundits and fans say this year's Grand Final is too tight to call
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THE bookies can’t call it. Many fans can’t, either.

They see it as a coin-toss between two sides who finished the regular season locked on points, and have beaten each other twice already this year.

I’m quietly confident Wigan will win. I’m certainly confident with which side will turn up - the same spirited, energetic and well-drilled team we’ve seen in recent weeks. They’ve nothing to fix up, no-one is out-of-form - whether by accident or design, they appear to be peaking at the right time.

Leeds? I’m not too sure. They certainly have the personnel, and if they find their mid-season form, they have the ability to cause problems. But have they got enough left in the tank?

Leeds haven’t been in great form since winning at Wembley. They’ve looked lethargic at spells in their last two games, against Huddersfield and St Helens. Trouble is, they won them both at the death, showing an admirable ability to dig deep when it mattered and then pull a late, decisive try out of the bag - in both cases, scored by Ryan Hall.

Whatever happens, games between these two sides rarely disappoint. There are enticing duels across the pitch to look forward to, and if Wigan play aggressively and at a high-tempo, they can play the game out on their terms.

But for very different reasons, the last two Grand Finals have shown the unexpected can happen (who tipped a record fightback against Warrington, or an early red-card against Saints?).

It should be a cracker!


GOOD on Ben Flower for stopping to talk to reporters outside the dressing room last Thursday night. His return to Old Trafford is the obvious story ahead of the Grand Final.

Flower has been nothing but repentant and honest ever since his brain-snap last year.

And in getting the interviews out the way, the story was done early, ensuring this week has not been all about him, but the game.


IT was good to see the Daily Mail has come to its senses. Not long ago, an article in the paper attacked the decision to “shamelessly stage the rugby league showcase as a rival attraction” to England’s World Cup game against Uruguay.

This week, a different writer concedes the union game is “now the third most important sports event taking place in Manchester (this) week, behind the Rugby League Grand Final and Terry Flanagan versus Diego Magdaleno for the WBO world lightweight title.”

Dare I suggest Latics’ League One clash at Bury is more important, too?


ZAK Hardaker. Man of Steel. Discuss.

The three players on the shortlist – the Leeds full-back was joined by Adam Cuthbertson and Alex Walmsley – have been among the best performers this season, even if there hasn’t been one, cut-above-the-rest, outstanding candidate.

With that in mind, I thought Hardaker probably deserved the award (some fans on Twitter suggested he should have been ruled out for his off-field controversies; I disagree).

It was pleasing to see George Williams deservedly get the Young Player of the Year. It’s to Shaun Wane’s great credit that, when Blake Green left last year, he ignored the clamour to recruit an Australian stand-off and handed the No.6 shirt to Williams instead.

He has settled and matured in the role, showing an ability to create tries and score them himself, and doesn’t shirk the tough work.

He was joined on the shortlist by Joe Burgess, who himself was given his chance when Pat Richards left in 2013. John Bateman and Dom Manfredi missed out on qualifying by a matter of months, while Oliver Gildart may have been in the reckoning, too, had he broken through earlier this year.

It’s great to see.


SERIOUSLY, if England don’t beat New Zealand, then there are problems.

We’re arguing about who should partner Gareth Widdop in the halfback roles.

Whether to stick with Sam Tomkins or opt for Zak Hardaker at full-back.

Wondering which hooker will miss out – James Roby, Micky McIlorum or Josh Hodgson, who has had a fine season with Canberra.

The Kiwis have just added captain Simon Mannering to a long list of absentees which includes the mercurial No.7 Shaun Johnson, stand-off Keiron Foran, Thomas Leuluai and giant winger Manu Vatuvei.

Yes, they still have

talent – Isaac Luke is in a strong group of forwards.

But ahead of the naming of England’s squad this Sunday, this has to represent the nation’s greatest chance in years.


HAVING endured England’s dismal World Cup

game against Australia on Saturday night, I woke the following morning and watched a thrilling NRL Grand Final full of breathtaking skill, bone-jarring hits, and which went right to the wire.

I know union is the bigger code, I just don’t get why.

Please, what am I missing? Someone, please.



BRADFORD coach James Lowes threatened to quit rugby league unless the Super 8s structure is changed.

His angry tirade came after the Bulls missed out on a place in Super League next year, after losing the ‘Million Pound Game’ to Wakefield.

“If this is the future of rugby league then I won’t be in it,” he said. “I’m not being bitter; I said it from the very start.”

Really? One eagle-eyed Bulls fan pointed out a story on Sky Sports from a year ago, when Lowes told Boots ‘N All: “I do feel that, rather than one up and one down or two up and two down which it was a few years ago, it’s a slightly easier way of getting back up there.”

That said, I was disappointed to see the Bulls miss out. Wakefield have brought nothing to Super League and, while Bradford are a shadow of the force they were, they have more potential.