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Warrington and Leeds set for Grand Final

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George Riley George Riley | 18:24 UK time, Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Grand Final is a unique occasion in that an entire season is defined over 80 minutes. Some say that is wrong - Wigan fans will feel aggrieved this year that they have ended up with nothing after finishing top of the pile. But what is undisputable is the drama that this system creates, and the adrenaline and tension that it will pump into Old Trafford on Saturday.

It looks like a perfect final. Defending champions against Challenge Cup winners for the first time.

Warrington coach Tony Smith, a Grand Final winner with Leeds, is bidding to become the first coach to win it with two different teams. Brian McDermott, a former assistant of Smith at Leeds, has guided the Rhinos to every single League and Cup final achievable since he took over two years ago.

It seems astonishing to think that just over 12 months ago, before Leeds' historic run to the title from fifth in the table, McDermott was being booed by sections of the Headingley crowd who wanted him to be sacked.

Realistically, there are only two days each season on which the world watches rugby league, and after Wembley this is the other. Yet this occasion always feels very different to the sport's other day in the limelight.

Whereas that is often an August rugby league festival with fans of all teams creating a kaleidoscope of colour and a Wembley wall of noise, the Grand Final is often a brutal bloodbath of nerves.

I've been nervous all week and I'm not even playing in it. Driving into work daily down empty roads at 5am through Stretford, Trafford and Salford Quays, seeing the big electronic road signs reading "Rugby Match Saturday 6pm: Expect Delays" has given me butterflies.

Warrington have already beaten Leeds in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley this season. Photo: Getty

I used to feel the same the night before big exams, wishing my grades could have instead been determined by coursework throughout the year. It always seemed unfair to judge a whole year's work on a single performance over a couple of hours. But that mixture of sickening jitters and "game day" adrenaline brings the best out of some people when there is no alternative but to knuckle down and do it.

So how on earth do Leeds keep finding their best answers in the final exam when their attendance throughout the year is so unpredictable? "I've no idea," coach Brian McDermott tells me. "But this is an incredible group of people who I feel incredibly honoured to work with."

Leeds' playoff performances have been remarkable and the Rhinos are 80 minutes away from winning the title from fifth place for the second successive year. That they have made Old Trafford again is down in no small part to captain Kevin Sinfield, who produced one of the most flawless games of rugby in knocking out Wigan last week that I have ever seen.

Sinfield will lead the Rhinos at Old Trafford for a record seventh time and always diverts the attention and praise that comes his way. He instead points to McDermott being the best coach he has ever played under. Sinfield won the Grand Final twice under Smith, remember, so that is some praise.

As for Warrington, so often the bridesmaids, they are fast becoming regulars at the rugby league altar, and Smith's leadership has been key. The former England coach has transformed talented under-achievers into much feared rugby league heavyweights who appear ready to create their own dynasty.

With Sinfield conducting the Leeds orchestra, Lee Briers is Warrington's puppet-master. The old magician has the same passion and box of tricks that he has always had, yet has developed a more mature head both with both age and Smith's guidance.

The battle upfront will again be key, with another Wolves veteran Adrian Morley playing in the Grand Final with a third different team.

Having lost with Leeds and won with Bradford, Moz will, at the age of 35, become the oldest ever player to appear in the Grand Final.

His legs may have slowed slightly but he still has the fire in his belly so expect Morley to lead from the front against Kylie Leuluai and co.

Danny McGuire's return from suspension for Leeds is huge. He dived over to win Leeds their first ever Grand Final in 2004 and eight years later he is in the form of his life.

A key battle out wide will be between England centres Kallum Watkins and Ryan Atkins. Watkins is a match winner for Leeds, with frightening pace, dazzling toes and real power for a centre.

Atkins, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength since being snubbed last year by England. A Leeds boy, the former Wakefield centre could have signed for the Rhinos when he left the Wildcats for Warrington but opted for primrose and blue over blue and amber. The pace and power have always been there but there is now a good rugby league brain inside that fearsome frame and he has developed into an outstanding try provider.

The Wolves are bidding to become the first team since St Helens in 2006 to do the double and will start as odds-on favourites. But having made Old Trafford a second home with five wins in seven visits, Leeds may feel they are inviting Warrington to their party.


  • Comment number 1.

    First to comment, blimey!

    Can't wait. Do not have sky but will be looking forward to cracking radio commentary, courtesy of you know who...

    By the way George, only 2 occasions to watch RL? In UK maybe, but there is that certain series called State of Origin!

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh yes, roll on Saturday, got my tickets having won a season long tipping competition and really looking forward to going with my mate. Don't mind who wins just looking forward to an exciting and open game with the stadium packed to the rafters with likeminded league fans. More excitement in 80 minutes than Union will manage in an entire season.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'll be listening live on the radio - hoping it will be Ray French and Allan Rooney, then watching a repeat on Sunday mid-day on Astro, here in Malaysia. I might put the TV on live, if its not Ray and Allan on the wireless...

  • Comment number 4.

    My Saturday eve job has just been cancelled.
    Down the Temple Walkabout with the London Rhinos boys - if any other League fans are looking for anywhere to congregate in the capital!
    BTW, I'm a life long Rugby League nut, but never watched a State of Origin

  • Comment number 5.

    There is so much respect between these two clubs and we Leeds fans still retain so much appreciation for what Tony Smith did for the Rhinos. Of course, as a Leeds fan, I hope our team will win but, if we have to lose, I prefer it to be to the Wolves than to anyone else. It should certainly be a great game and a fitting end to a great season.

  • Comment number 6.

    Can't wait for the game. Having seen these two teams at Wembley in August I must say I think Wire will win, but I thought it would be a Saints Wigan final so not feeling entirely confident predicting anything. Burrow changed the game last year with two moments of brilliance and he was man of the match in another of Leeds triumph so I think he is key along with Sinfields so-far exemplary kicking in the playoffs if the Rhinos are to win. For the wolves I think the two Monaghan brothers could be key players. Michael hasn't been as prominent this year but I still think he has class that could turn the game at a key point and his brother v Ryan Hall should mean lots of bombs contested in the air. Roll on Saturday!

  • Comment number 7.

    How can you describe Warrington as bridesmaids- The club know how to win trophies 4 in the last 4 seasons yes -League leaders is a trophy, and its great to see them at Old Trafford , losing one semi final in that time doesnt make them bridesmaids or chokers or any other name made up by the Yorkshire press

    and why didnt you mention how many tickets both clubs have sold- a fantastic effort from both sets of fans

  • Comment number 8.

    ''Realistically, there are only two days each season on which the world watches rugby league'' State of Origin x 3? NRL Grand Final? Internationals? Stop pushing this stupid media myth that nobody really cares about RL.

  • Comment number 9.

    Key man for Leeds in my opinion is definitely Danny Mcguire. He missed Leed's Challenge Cup final loss to Warrington and his loss was felt as it is when he's not playing. Warrington should realistically win this but you can never write off Leeds if their big match players play like everyone knows they can.

  • Comment number 10.

    Cocokin - Actually the league leaders is a shield, not a trophy . . . and I think he was referring to the Grand Final rather than the Challenge Cup.

  • Comment number 11.

    'The Grand Final is a unique occasion in that an entire season is defined over 80 minutes.'

    Sums up your knowledge right from the outset.

    Every real rugby league fan knows that Wigan have been the top team this year. I'm a Rhino, but I would never claim we've been the top side in 2012. So to say that the whole season is 'defined' over this one match is codswallop.

    Rhino's to win tomorrow, McGuire will be on fire mark my words.

  • Comment number 12.

    I don't know why some of you bother reading George's articles. All you do is slate the bloke. I for one enjoy them. I'm not saying I always agree with them, but they're good reads none the less.

    Surely the aim of the piece was to advertise the intensity and passion of the game.

    Being a Rhino, I see Old Trafford as our home away from home - I just hope the Wolves don't come and blow the doors down and steal our trophy. I personally think it's too close to call. Yes Warrington beat us over the season and in the cup, but we have a team of players who taking losing the GF personnally.

    I saw an analogy this week about the format of the playoffs which I liked. 'The same way a boxer can be losing on points for 11 rounds but win the fight with a knock down in the 12th, rugby league is decided by the last team standing at the end' or something like that. It makes our sport exciting, and we all know the season ends now, not 4 weeks ago.

    Credit should go to the Rhino's for winning the World Club Challenge at the start of season, reaching Wembley in the middle and now playing in the Grand Final at the end. We've definitely missed consistency, but we've played more rugby than anyone over the last x many years, and we're still there at the business end.

  • Comment number 13.

    Give Riley a break. The piece could be taken as an advertisment for Rugby League as before seeing it I didn't even know it was this weekend!

  • Comment number 14.

    Wigan go away empty handed?? What is the League Leaders shield for? Every team at the begginging of the season knows the format of the competition, it's not who comes top, it's who manages their performance to peak for old Trafford. Leeds go into the final as usual, but as saints have found out many a time, you still have to win on the day. Mot forever wherever

  • Comment number 15.

    Leave George alone! He has to put up with Nicky Campbell's 'banter' everyone morning, this is last thing he needs.

    Looking forward to the Grand Final. Watching it in Glasgow with the Rhinos supporting in-laws. Might support Wire just to wind them up.

  • Comment number 16.

    Looking forward to a great game. Whoever wins will be SL champions whether we like it or not. And as Jose said, the best team doesn't always win.

    I'm sticking with Warrington as I said that at the start of the playoffs,

  • Comment number 17.

    I despair.
    This game should be a cracker...yet the game of RL is vastly undersold by the mainstream press.I used to be a regular at Wilderspool in the 60'/70's and the game has improved beyond belief.
    It annoys me that the posh boys game gets ALL the publicity,but Rugby League beats the hell out of union in every aspect.
    Hope the Wire do it tomorrow. Hope it exceeds expectations. Hope that one day the game itself will get a better "profile".

  • Comment number 18.

    Can't wait , should be a cracker. The play offs are an excellent way to end the season, though I think 7 not 8 should qualify. Whoever wins are champions, same as the Cup, we won the hub cap (how about awarding the old div 1 trophy instead- much better on the eye), but we've not gone far year we'll be back even better.

    Re our profile, stop the moaning and support our game, this blog is excellent, no one should forget our game truely is the greatest game. What other sport has men of the calibre of Sinfield, Briers, Tomkins, Lomax, Peacock, STEVE PRESCOTT look up to? No Terrys or Coles in our sport - love to see either player play five minutes of league, not that they'd last that long.

    RL actually is still in pretty good shape off the pitch considering the economy etc. Just needs some real leadership (bring back GB! we can have both England and Lions, even the Rah Rahs manage it) and the momentum will follow.

    What will people have to moan about next week.....

  • Comment number 19.

    I am a Warrington fan if some 30 years (26 of which were painful) and I am incredibly excited about tomorrow. I take nothing away from our achievements in getting to and winning at wembley 3 out of last 4 years but this is the BIG one. The greatest thing for me is that I will be going with the same people I stood on the terraces at widerspool with over 30 years ago namely my dad, brother, and my 4 closest friends. None of us ever thought we would see the day.

    I happen to like and respect Leeds and know that this will be a great game.

    Come on the Wire !!

  • Comment number 20.

    Wire fans are sooooooo arogant

  • Comment number 21.


    What a stupid and uneccesary comment. Muppet !

  • Comment number 22.

    Can't wait for tomorrow will be there we arrive at 3pm for a meal at Old Traffford first in an Executive Box for our Friends birthday & then bring on the game @ the Place of Attainable Dreams !! ; )

  • Comment number 23.

    Should be a cracker of a game as long as both teams turn up. Hoping for a Leeds win to avenge the Challenge Cup Final defeat and confound the doubters once again. Expecting massive games from ex-Stanningley juniors, Jamie Peacock and Jamie Jones Buchanan.
    I think the RFL should definitely bring back GB when we go down under for the Four Nations.
    As far as Super League is concerned, I don't think its ready for top eight play offs yet. Go back to the top six and I believe it will increase the intensity of the play offs and hopefully the attendances. Too many teams get a second chance in the current format, which means supporters are more likely to pick and choose their games.
    This season has been a bit disappointing as there's been too many one sided games. I don't believe we've got enough quality players to sustain a 14 team Super League yet. I've been watching quite a bit of the NRL this season and one sided games are the exception rather than the rule. If the RFL keep the 14 team Super League, then I believe they need to adopt a bye format similar to the NRL. The top teams are playing too much rugby, the teams with smaller squads are struggling to put out their best teams every week. A week off two or three times a season will give players the rest they need and give players with injuries the chance to recover. It may also help with the end of season internationals, as the players may be that bit fresher.
    This isn't negativity towards the game in the UK, its just my opinion of how we can improve. I nearly forgot, the RFL need to pull their marketing finger out of their backside and give our game the promotion and publicity it deserves.
    I'll get down off my soapbox now.

  • Comment number 24.

    It's a shame today's game is about rugby league and yet we still have snipes and comments about union,so predictable!

  • Comment number 25.


    Why have you made this comment? No need for it, I have never met an arrogant Wire fan, Unfortunately I have met many arrogant Leeds fans.

    Very tough game to call, when you weigh everything up, I call a very norrow Leeds win 20-18. I like most RL fans want to see a cracking game. (and Leeds win).
    #Football= Cole, Terry, Ferdinand fiasco
    #RU= Bloodgate
    #Cricket= Betting Scandal
    #RL= honest, gritty, passion and hard work!

    Best game on the planet

    Come on Leeds!

  • Comment number 26.

    Warrington win for me. After all the heartache my Saints team have put them through in the Superleague era I have no problems at all with them winning their first championship in a hundred years or whatever it is! They have also been the best team in Superleague for the last two seasons and so deserve some reward for that. And while they will still be behind Saints in terms of a season's achievement if they do win the double (we captured the treble in 2006), they will be worthy winners if they do pull it off. Besides, it would be so much fun to see Leeds lose two finals in one season. That must be fairly rare. Not that I'm bitter or anything about the pain Leeds has put us Saints fans through in recent years. No. Not me!

    As for Wigan getting nothing this season, I'm sure they won the league leaders shield? I get a bit weary of the way in which that particular piece of silverware is consistently derided by the media and many fans alike. It is a significant achievement to end up top of the pile after such a long season, which in Wigan's case was extended by involvement to the semi finals in the Challenge Cup. I used to love Saints getting top spot and IMO people only deride it when their own team don't make the grade.

    Unfortunately I think what George says is true concerning how often the world gets to see rugby league. A lot of that is down to the mainstream press that appears to be obsessed primarily with soccer, to the point of abject tedium. However, maybe rugby league has to earn its stripes and work harder on actively promoting the sport not only through savvy marketing and promotional material but also by improving the standard of weekly fare, because any new fan will want to watch on a weekly basis and not just two finals a year. After a season of largely below standard matches, the RFL needs to address this matter with some urgency otherwise there could be a negative impact upon the sport as a whole.

    Good luck Warrington!

  • Comment number 27.

    If Leeds decide to play RUGBY instead of THUGBY they are more than capable of winning.

    If Warrington decide to play RUGBY and not get involved in Leeds dubious tactics they will win handsomely. If they get embroiled then the game will be as dull as ditchwater and quite possibly an inane penalty will break the drudgery.

    The key to this game is which "game" Leeds wish to utilise.

  • Comment number 28.

    Two things Ryan Atkins is one of the worst centres i've ever seen and Warrington are the worst in the Rugby League impossible to have a conversation with any of them

  • Comment number 29.

    MUFCSAINT - I take it that means no Christmas card for Wolfie the mascot then....

  • Comment number 30.

    What a game, what an end to the season ! Both teams and their fans did the sport and themselves proud. No doubt the press be full of football tomorrow, but THAT was real sport.


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