Castleford are attempting to make it two appearances in a row at Old Trafford, but first face a trip to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Warriors in the semi-finals. Here’s everything you need to know…
Coach Shaun Wane names captain Sean O’Loughlin in the 19-man squad after missing out last week due to an calf issue. Thomas Leuluai also returns to the side and if he makes an appearance it will be his 250th for the Warriors. Callum Field and Craig Mullen are the two individuals who miss out.
This fixture is potentially the final game of Shaun Wane’s reign, as he previously announced that he will be leaving the Warriors at the end of the year. A victory would be a tenth trip to the Grand Final for Wigan during the Super League era, and the fifth time Wane has led the team out, recording two victories out of four at Old Trafford. This includes their last visit in 2016 when they beat Warrington Wolves 12-6.
Wigan are looking to continue in their excellent vain of form with the side winning all of their last eight fixtures, becoming the only side to ever win all of their Super 8s matches in the process. Their last defeat came on the 19th of July at home against league leaders St Helens, going down 14-6.
Wigan 19-man squad: Bateman, Clubb, Davies, Escare, Farrell, Flower, Gildart, Greenwood, Hamlin, Leuluai, Manfredi, Navarrete, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sarginson, Sutton, Tautai, Tomkins, Williams.
Castleford were on a five-match winning run before a 26-0 defeat to St Helens last week, and they will be looking to give a better showing of themselves in this semi-final.
However, coach Daryl Powell did rest players for that fixture and most of them return this week, with Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Oliver Holmes, Mike McMeeken and Michael Shenton all returning to the 19-man squad. One notable absentee is young half-back Jake Trueman, who suffered a hand injury last Friday and is forced to miss this game out, with Ben Roberts likely to move back to stand-off.
Castleford will be looking to return to the Grand Final after their debut appearance ended in a disappointing 24-6 defeat to Leeds Rhinos 12 months ago. The Tigers had a very solid Super 8s campaign but did lose two of their matches, starting with a 24-22 defeat at the DW against Wigan.
Castleford 19-man squad: Clare, Clark, Cook, Eden, Gale, Holmes, Massey, Mata’utia, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Wardle, Watts, Webster.
PREDICTIONS: SUPER LEAGUE PREDICTIONS | Semi-finals
This match will be the fourth meeting of the year between these sides with the home team coming out on top on each one of the previous three matches.
This will be the third time they have played at the DW this season with Wigan typically imperious at home, although last season Castleford beat the Warriors on both of their visits to the DW Stadium.
In the last two meetings, the margin of victory has been a combined three points, showing just how close this contest could be.
Dom Manfredi vs Greg Eden
Both sides look to play expansive rugby which leads to frequent tries on the edges, so both Dom Manfredi and Greg Eden could provide a key role in this fixture. Manfredi missed all of last season and most of this year due to injury and has only played three matches so far, but he was a prolific try scorer a few seasons back and gave a glimpse of that when he scored twice on his comeback against Warrington. Manfredi is generally a strong player in the air with speed to match.
Greg Eden has felt the injury curse himself this season, yet he has still scored 18 tries this year in only 14 matches and sits fourth on the try scoring charts, thanks largely to a remarkable run of 12 tries in his last five appearances. He was miles clear at the top of try scoring charts last season and has lost none of that clinical edge, and he has the pace and agility to strike fear into defences if he is given space.
George Williams vs Luke Gale
The half backs will be another interesting battle, between two players who are very composed and know when to attack the line for themselves or which pass to pick. Both men were picked by England coach Wayne Bennett on Tuesday for the test series against New Zealand, showing the huge capabilities of both.
Williams is a player who often will move towards the edges in order to open up gaps for his centres Oliver Gildart and Dan Sarginson. His short kicking game will help create pressure for Wigan which is part of the reason why they were the third highest scorers in the competition, and his return from injury had coincided with their winning run for a reason. Williams has scored six tries this season to go along with 22 assists in 24 Super League matches.
Luke Gale has been key for Castleford for the past few seasons, not least during a superb 2017 which resulted him being named as the Man of Steel. His presence seemed limited in the Grand Final last year and some have questioned his capabilities in the big matches, but you can’t forget the remarkable comeback from an appendix operation just 16 days before the match-winning semi-final display. Gale has only made 14 appearances this year due to a knee injury, but his kicking game will be crucial to their chances. He has a lot to prove but it would be fitting if he could make amends at next weekend’s final.
John Bateman vs Mike McMeeken
There is another potentially crucial duel at second row between two more players who were named in the England squad, John Bateman and Mike McMeeken.
Bateman has had an outstanding year, earning plenty of recognition this year including a place on the Man of Steel shortlist, and he will be playing next season for the Canberra Raiders in the NRL. He has made over 3000 metres this year which puts him 7th on the chart, with St Helens’ prop Luke Thompson the only forward to make more. Bateman takes the ball into tackles hard and looks to offload to get his side on attacks, and is always a very dangerous player if he isn’t dealt with.
Facing him will be Mike McMeeken, who is a top player in his own right who has developed well under Daryl Powell. After making the move from London in 2015, McMeeken has turned into one of the best second rowers in the competition and at 24 he could go very far in his career. A player who is regularly seen breaking through the line on Castleford’s right hand side could be important in getting the Tigers on the front foot, and he is a solid defender too.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 5th October
Venue: DW Stadium
Referee: Ben Thaler