This weekend’s Engage Super League Grand Final may feature the third and fifth-placed teams in the regular season but no-one should be really be surprised by that fact. Despite Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors dominating the league table, there has normally been very little between the top six when they’ve met on the field and St Helens and the Leeds Rhinos seem certain to serve up a spectacle befitting a showpiece occasion at Old Trafford.
This is the Saints’ ninth Grand Final appearance and their sixth in succession. They’ve come out on top on four previous occasions but haven’t won since 2006 and the Rhinos proved their nemesis in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Whether that will have a psychological impact on Royce Simmons‘ team remains to be seen, however. St Helens have already righted one wrong in this year’s play-offs, gaining revenge on Wigan for last year’s Grand Final defeat in the semi-finals. It’s a measure of how effectively they’ve got their act together in recent weeks that they also beat the Warriors at the DW Stadium in the first round of play-off matches and it’s no surprise that bookmakers have made them favourites to win the Grand Final, sportingbet‘s 13/20 being the best odds on offer. Paul Wellens leads a potent mixture of experience and youth with the likes of James Roby, Kyle Eastmond and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook all expected to thrive in the red-hot atmosphere of an Old Trafford final. The first named is a general 7/1 to be Man Of The Match.
But, given their history, this will be no walk in the park for the Saints and particularly their relatively inexperienced half-back pairing of Lee Gaskell and Johnny Lomax. Rhinos opposite numbers Danny Maguire and Kevin Sinfield are certain to put them under immense pressure, especially in the opening stages, and with some inclement weather forecast for the Manchester area over the weekend, their handling will have to be exemplary if the Saints are going to capitalise while in possession.
In big games like these, experience is often key and for that reason I’m backing the Rhinos to upset the odds. A relatively low-scoring game seems probable given forecast conditions and only once has the total points exceeded 44 in a Grand Final in any case so backing Under 42.5 points at 5/6 with Ladbrokes looks a solid bet. Leeds are Evens with a two-point start at Stan James, sportingbet and William Hill and that will do for me. Try a 6-10 points winning margin for the Rhinos at 8/1 with Paddy Power.