Blogs & Opinion

Stepping up!

Sky Sports analyst Stevo picks out the key contests at Old Trafford

News Posted 2nd October 2008 view comments

This time last year we were in almost exactly the same position with St Helens and Leeds heading into the Grand Final.

However, there are a few major differences. St Helens last year looked battered and beaten even though they did beat Leeds 10-8 in that play-off game.

Battered and bruised

On that occasion I think the Leeds players knew that they had the measure of Saints even though they had to go the hard way to the Grand Final. Deep down they knew they had really hurt the Saints players.

Sean Long: big-match player

Sean Long: big-match player

I don't think they will have that advantage this time around. In fact it looked the other way round. The Leeds players trooped off suffering not only physical exertion, but I think mentally they were bowed as well. Full credit to the Rhinos for bouncing back against Wigan.

I think that has a lot to do with Brian McClennan, who is very calm and he does not get excited or over-eager.

St Helens v Leeds
5.30pm, Saturday, 4th October
Sky Sports 1 &HD1

The biggest advantage that Leeds have is that they all come off the field knowing that they did not play well against Saints. There were no excuses coming out of their camp - just got to show you what a good coach McClennan is. He is very capable of putting his team back on the horse.

Weather watch

I think Leeds will also be looking at the weather which has been shocking up here. It has been pouring and that will be a great advantage to Leeds. I don't think they can match the power base out wide that Saints have. I think their combination between Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire has not been as effective as that of Sean Long and Leon Pryce. Saints will want a dry track as they are scintillating when the paddock is dry.

I think Saints coach Daniel Anderson will allow Pryce to play a little wider to pinpoint Carl Ablett and Keith Senior. I think they have probably been identified as chinks in the armour. I think they will try and tire them out, especially Senior who is no spring chicken. He has had a tremendous season though -- so much so that he should be a definite to go down for the World Cup. But I think Saints will make him work overtime.

Another area that Saints will target will be the base area where they have to stop Matt Diskin running from dummy half. It is no coincidence that when Diskin does that and controls the play-the-ball area, he is a key figure for Leeds in attack. If he manages to do that, then Leeds will grow in confidence and Leeds will start to play extremely well.

Will McGuire show up?

But the big talking point for Leeds is will McGuire stand up to the pressure? The last time they played, McGuire was non-existent. Whether he was injured or not, I don't know but he certainly bounced back with a vengeance a week later against Wigan. He was one of the major reasons why Leeds won and he needs a repeat performance for the Rhinos to have any chance.

He knows more than anyone what a dangerous man Leon Pryce is. If Leeds can get to Pryce and ruffle him and throw him off his stride, well Pryce can also be put off his usual game.

The J Factor

You have heard about the X Factor, but this is going to be all about the J Factor!

Is it going to be James Graham or Jamie Peacock who comes out on top? Whoever becomes cock of the roost will certainly give their side a huge advantage.

Peacock was magnanimous in his praise for Graham winning the Man of Steel, I think deep down he thought he had a pretty good chance himself and will give it his all to show us why.

Peacock has been named the best forward in the world two years on the trot, so that in itself is going to be a great battle.

Going Long

Sean Long is a big-game player and Saints will be looking to him for another massive performance. You don't win three Lance Todd Trophies by not being able to perform.

Leeds need to attack more and I really do think that Rob Burrow is wasted at first receiver and I think he needs to be a little more creative and take the ball on the hoof. He lacks a bit of venom, and venom and bite is what Leeds need.

Burrow showed against Wigan that when he did play the ball he can make things happen as in their first try against the Warriors.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that these are the best two sides in the competition. It is fitting that they are meeting in the biggest game of the season. As well as having the temperament, it is going to about courage and wits too. Don't miss it!

Stevo says

I think the bookies have got it right and St Helens will shade it. But if you want to put a shilling on Saints, give someone a call up in Manchester first. If it is pelting down, forget about all the skill factor. It is just about hard graft then and whoever rolls their sleeves up and digs deeper will win.

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