Ahead of the sold-out Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday, we look at five key areas which could lead to Leeds Rhinos lifting the trophy this weekend.
The back line
Leeds posses the most exciting set of backs in the country with Man of Steel Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon and Ryan Hall. The quintet have scored 84 tries between them in all competitions this season. Hardaker, Briscoe and Hall also help out the forwards by providing great go forward with their kick returns, which will be vital against Wigan’s physical onslaught. If the game is tight, any one of these players could produce a moment of magic.
After looking like they were going win the League Leaders’ Shield by a distance, the Rhinos wobbled post-Wembley with three straight defeats to St Helens, Catalans Dragons and Castleford Tigers. Suddenly it looked like a repeat of 2014, when Leeds failed to win another match after winning the Challenge Cup. However this year the players rallied to win at Huddersfield Giants, which secured the Hubcap, and beat Saints in the semi-final. The clashes were two of the best and most physical encounters this season, meaning Leeds have already been playing at the intensity required to win a Grand Final. Wigan, meanwhile, are coming off the back of two easy wins.
Without even mentioning the departing trio of legends, coach Brian McDermott – himself having played and coached in a big game or two – can rely on the likes of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Carl Ablett, Brett Delaney, Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins and Zak Hardaker as players who have won at Old Trafford on multiple occasions. Leeds know what it takes to win on the biggest stage, so even if they find themselves behind on the scoreboard, they will be confident they can find a way to triumph.
If Wigan make the game an arm wrestle between the forwards, they will probably win. Their pack is the most menacing and aggressive in Super League, and once they get a roll on they are hard to stop. The arrival of Adam Cuthbertson has transformed the way the Rhinos play, with the Australian setting a league record for the amount of offloads he has made. Should Cuthbertson fire, Leeds will be able to move the Wigan forwards around the park, and that back line will start to smell blood.
It’s impossible to ignore Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, who will all go down in folklore as having played a monumental part in Leeds’ golden decade of success. Prop duo Peacock and Leuluai put in huge shifts in the semi-final victory over Saints, while Sinfield defied all emotion to stay ice cold in kicking the game-changing 40-20. It would be the perfect way for them to go out by beating Wigan for the first time in a major final to secure the Rhinos’ first ever treble.