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Grand Final Preview - Australian Rugby league News
globalrugbyleague - Sat, 04 Oct 2008 13:15:00 GMT
Reigning Super League champions Leeds Rhinos and Challenge Cup holders St. Helens go head-to-head tomorrow night in Manchester for the right to be crowned Super League XIII champions.

It’s that time of year again when the grand final showpiece of the season is played in front of over 70,000 rugby league fans at The Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford.

Both teams are raring and ready to go after good preparations this week.

Saints have had the extra week off to prepare following their 38-10 tanking of the Rhinos at Knowsley Road in the grand final playoff game two weeks ago.

This week Saints have been boosted by the news that hooker Kieron Cunningham has signed a one-year extension to his current contract, keeping him at the club until the end of 2009.

Furthermore, the Merseyside outfit has had no less than five of their squad included in the Super League XIII Dream Team.

Included were Matt Gidley, Ade Gardner, Leon Pryce, Keiron Cunningham, and newly crowned Man of Steel James Graham.

The only notable absentee for St. Helens will be Paul Sculthorpe who has announced his retirement from the game following his constant struggle to recover from serious injuries.

The grand final will be Head Coach Daniel Anderson’s last game in charge before he heads back to Australia.

The Australian faces a selection headache ahead of the game, after New Zealand international prop Jason Cayless declared himself fit for the grand final.

Anderson will have to choose weather to go with Cayless or Nick Fozzard, who was the 18th man for the Challenge Cup final earlier this year.

It is likely that Fozzard, who will be playing in Hull KR’s colours next year, will miss out on the 17 again, along with youngster Kyle Eastmond who has also been included in St. Helens’ 19 man squad.

Also leaving after the game will be St. Helens fitness coach and ex-player Apollo Perelini, who is jetting off with his family for a new life in Dubai where he has landed a job instructing an elite sporting academy.

Scrum half Sean Long has been celebrating this week following the birth of his third child Jack who was born on Sunday, weighing a healthy 10 lbs.

Long will hoping to add another Super League ring to his collection and in doing so he will be hoping to reach a personal milestone off kicking 1,000 career goals in club and representative matches.

The 32 year old is only five goals from reaching the feat and it would certainly be a good way to reach the milestone in a grand final.

Saints will be hoping to carry on their phenomenal unbeaten run to make it 24 in a row in all competitions, which would be the perfect way to cap off a potential double winning season and give Daniel Anderson the perfect send off with another Super League ring.

Leeds will enter the grand final as underdogs as they did last year when they pulled off a surprise 33-6 victory over St. Helens.

Leeds’ preparations have been rocked a little this week after it was announced that New Zealand full back Brent Webb will miss the showpiece event through a back injury.

The injury is so serious that the Kiwi international could even miss his country’s World Cup campaign down under, which kicks off later this month.

The Rhinos though did receive a welcomed boost when winger Lee Smith was given the go-ahead to play after he received a £300 fine after he was found guilty of stamping on the head of Wigan’s Phil Bailey in last Friday’s 18-14 win at Headingley.

The RFL judiciary panel adjudged that the £300 fine was punishment enough and thought it would have been harsh to ban Smith from playing in the grand final.

Like their opponents St. Helens, Leeds had five members of their squad also named in the Super League XIII Dream Team. Included were Scott Donald, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Gareth Ellis, and Kevin Sinfield.

Gareth Ellis is one of three Rhinos that will be walking out in the Amber and Blue for the last time at Old Trafford.

Ellis is moving to Australia to join up with Sydney based outfit West Tigers after signing a three years deal earlier this year, and he will now be joined by Jordan Tansey who has secured a two-year loan deal with roosters this week.

Nick Scruton will also be making his farewell appearance at Old Trafford before he joins up with rivals Bradford Bulls next year.

Leeds has never once retained a league championship title in their 113 years of existence.

Head Coach Brian McClennan is hoping to put an end to that statistic and emulate Tony Smith’s achievement last year.

The man in charge in the middle will be Ashley Klein, making his third grand final appearance with the whistle.

St. Helens are the bookmakers’ favourites, but realistically, when the Challenge Cup holders are facing the same Leeds Rhinos who are World Club Champions and Super League Champions, I recommend you toss a coin and back heads or tails. This one should be a cracker.

St. Helens 19 man squad: Wellens, Gardner, Gidley, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Graham, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilkin, Flannery, Roby, Fozzard, Hargreaves, Clough, Fa’asavalu, Eastmond. Coach: Daniel Anderson

Leeds Rhinos 19 man squad: Webb, Smith, Senior, Donald, McGuire, Burrow, Peacock, Diskin, Leuluai, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, Sinfield (C), Lauitiiti, Bailey, Scruton, Burgess, Ablett, Kirke, Hall. Coach: Brian McClennan - Read More, Here