12162017

Sinfield ‘saddened’ by Hardaker’s Grand Final omission

Zak Hardaker and Luke Gale

Zak Hardaker (centre) celebrates with team-mate Luke Gale after beating St Helens to reach the Grand Final

Former Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield says he is disappointed and saddened that Castleford’s Zak Hardaker will miss Saturday’s Grand Final.

Hardaker was out left out of the Tigers squad for the game against Leeds after a “breach of club rules”.

The England full-back, 25, played under Sinfield at Leeds and has scored 13 tries in 30 games in 2017.

“It’s a huge blow for Cas, but it’s just one of those sub-plots behind this year’s Grand Final,” said Sinfield.

“Leeds have lost their past eight matches against Castleford, and four this season alone, but now you start to think this could be very, very close.”

The decision to drop Hardaker comes before Castleford’s first Grand Final appearance on Saturday, and at the end of a season in which Hardaker played a key role in the League Leaders’ Shield win, earning a nomination for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.

“One of our star men is going to be missing. But what it does provide is the opportunity for someone else from Castleford to stand up,” Sinfield told BBC Radio 5 live.

“In 2008 one of our star players Brent Webb missed a couple of days through injury, and his replacement Lee Smith stepped up to win the man of the match trophy.”

Experience will count for Leeds

Zak Hardaker and Kevin Sinfield<!–

Zak Hardaker (left) was named Man of Steel in 2015 – the season in which captain Kevin Sinfield (right) retired

While Castleford have just one man with Grand Final experience in captain Michael Shenton, Leeds have 15 players have who have featured in the season finale at Old Trafford.

Captain Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow – the half-back pairing who have been the heartbeat of the club since their debuts in 2001 – have made nearly 1,000 appearances between them and will both be playing their last game for the Rhinos.

The pair, alongside Sinfield, have won seven Grand Finals – and could add an eighth on Saturday night.

“I do think that experience will count but whether it will be enough for Leeds, we will see. It’s going to be a cracker of a game,” said Sinfield.

“Rhinos have everything to play for with McGuire and Burrow bowing out. And they’ve also included Stevie Ward in the squad after he dislocated his shoulder last week. These sub-plots just whet the appetite a little bit more.

Leeds – who are appearing in a record-equalling 10th Grand Final – have had a much-improved season after the lows of 2016.

Having become only the third side of the Super League era to complete the treble in 2015, Leeds were left battling it out in the qualifiers the following season.

“It’s been really interesting watching Leeds fly under the radar this season,” added Sinfield.

“When I look at where they were in 2016, it’s like they did it on purpose. They were almost relegated, created as much adversity as they could and in 2017 they’ve said ‘watch this’.

“They’ve fought back and you’d be a brave person to bet against them tomorrow.”

No paper planes at Old Trafford

Old Trafford<!–

Wigan beat Warrington under the lights at Old Trafford to win the 2016 Grand Final

During England’s lacklustre 1-0 win over Slovenia in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday night at Wembley, the home fans spent most of the second half hurling paper aeroplanes at each other.

But with a sell-out crowd expected for the second time in three years, Sinfield believes it will be a different atmosphere at Old Trafford on Saturday night.

“You won’t have time to make paper aeroplanes on Saturday, there will be too much action,” he said.

“It’s the pinnacle of the rugby league year – the final domestic game of the season and the two best teams have been scrapping and fighting it out all year.

“It’s in the midst of autumn, it’s cold, it’s dark and it’s set for a fantastic game in front of a full house. There’s no better place to play.”

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