There are so many top-class players in the provisional squads for Saturday’s Super League Grand Final between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors that any one of the 34 players that take to the field could win the Harry Sunderland trophy.
Coupled with the ability, there are so many sub-plots and stories on display that the emotional implications, as well as the on-field performances, could dictate which player is awarded the Man of the Match award.
Here is a look at who I believe are the front-runners to pick up the prestigious award on Saturday:
Jamie Peacock – The most decorated player in the game’s history calls time on his career after Saturday’s showpiece and it would be befitting of the rest of Peacock’s career if he were to be named the Harry Sunderland trophy winner. The 37 year-old is bidding to win the Grand Final for an incredible ninth time and is hoping to call on those previous experiences come Saturday: “When you win a final you have that muscle memory – you know what to do and how your mindset was during the week and during the game,” Peacock told Super League’s website.
“It’s a huge lift to yourself and the team. It’s something we’ve been able to fall back on year after year when we’ve got to Grand Finals.
“We’ve had that ability to win no matter what situation we’ve been in within the Grand Final and I think that will be big for us on Saturday.”
But Peacock is more than just a sentimental vote for the trophy, he has been in fine form again throughout 2015, making over 3700 metres for the Rhinos and will take the game to the Warriors forwards at Old Trafford.
Zak Hardaker – It’s already been quite a week for the Rhinos full-back, having picked up the Man of Steel gong at the start of the week, Hardaker will be hoping to round off an exceptional season by taking the Man of the Match prize in the Grand Final.
The 23 year-old has impressed throughout the year with his excellent defensive and positional play, and has also weighed in with 10 tries and six assists in attack.
In what looks like being one of the closest Grand Finals in years, Hardaker could prove the difference at both ends of the field.
Kevin Sinfield – Another player making his final appearance in a Rhinos shirt, skipper Sinfield will be desperate to bow out of league with a Grand Final winners ring and could well take the Harry Sunderland trophy with him too.
There is no doubt Sinfield’s game management is superb, meaning he is to go-to man when the Rhinos are looking to hold on to a lead and see out a victory. His importance to the team cannot be understated.
There is also the possibility that goal-kicking could seperate the two sides on the night, and Sinfield leads the way in that area this season, with 105 successful goal kicks.
So, for his know-how – especially in big games – and this being his swansong in a Rhinos shirt, ‘Sir’ Kev has to be near the top of the list for the Harry Sunderland should Leeds win.
George Williams – Seems to have improved with each game this season game and hasn’t been phased by the big occassion, so wonderkid Williams could be the key to unlocking the Rhinos defence on Saturday night.
Shaun Wane put his faith in the 20 year-old at the start of the season and has been repayed with 21 try assists and eight touch downs, which helped land Williams the Young Player of the Year Award.
Williams has looks like he will have a long and successful career in the game, and he could win another personal accolade in his first Grand Final.
Ben Flower – We all know what happened 12 months ago, but Flower has been superb for the Cherry and Whites since serving his suspension and faces an intriguing battle against Kylie Leuleuai and Jamie Peacock up the middle.
Shaun Wane is certainly confident that the Welsh international can earn his redemption for last year’s red card this time around: “His form has been superb,” Wane told Sporting Life. “I said to him at the walkabout at Old Trafford ‘this is just another game on a piece of grass, just think of it that way’.
“If I feel I need to have another word before he goes out I will, but Ben is quite strong-willed and he’s not 19. He’s been in the game quite a while now and he knows what he needs to do.
“He knows what job I want from him as a front rower and he’ll deliver that for me on Saturday.”
Matty Bowen – The retiring full-back Bowen has had an up-and-down time at the DW but arguably brings some of his best form in a Wigan shirt into the Grand Final.
The 33 year-old was awesome against Huddersfield and Castleford in the Warriors’ two previous games and has been impressive throughout the Super 8s phase of the competition.
Bowen has made plenty of ground carrying the ball away from his own line and has managed eight tries and 10 try assists in Super League XX, confirming his threat in the opposition’s 20 metre zone.
His error count has reduced drastically since last season, too, and he could very well have a huge say in the destination of the Super League trophy on Saturday.