Excitement has been building since the final hooter in last fridays final eliminator against the Warriors. After a monumental battle against Brian Nobles side, the Rhinos had secured passage to the seasons showpiece event and the fans thoughts turned to getting their hands on tickets. It does, however, feel a little flatter than last season. Perhaps it's familiarity, possibly the 'credit crunch', or maybe the Rhinos supporters are less hopeful of our chances than they were at this point last year.
McClennan has added Ryan Hall and Luke Burgess to last weeks seventeen and with Lee Smith getting away with just a fine from tuesdays disciplinary meeting I suspect that the coach will go with the same seventeen that were triumphant last week. The only possible changes would be Hall for Smith (very unlikely) or Burgess for Kirke (outside chance). It looks like Luke will be missing out on the big one, but can take solace from the fact that similar things happened early in the careers of current Leeds stalwarts like Sinfield and McGuire (who both missed out on Challenge Cup Final selection).
Bluey must be happy that he is putting out the best side possible from his squad. With the exception of the now departed Toopi, this is probably the seventeen that he'd have picked for this game at the start of the season. If it was good enough then, it should be good enough now.
Saints have been twiddling their thumbs for the last fortnight since burying us at Knowsley Road. It's Daniel Andersons last game in charge before he makes way for Mick Potter next year and he will have been working hard all week to ensure that his sides intensity hasn't dropped in the way it did last year. Saints are without doubt a quality side and will enter the Old Trafford cauldron on saturday night bursting with the confidence that they can wave their coach on his journey back to Australia safe in the knowledge that all of this season silverware is safely in the trophy cabinet.
Anderson has named his nineteen as; Wellens , Gardner, Gidley, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Fozzard, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilkin, Roby, Flannery, Graham, Hargreaves, Clough, Fa’asavalu, and Eastmond. As with Leeds there are few surprises in that line-up with Clough and Eastmond the ones likely to miss out unless there are players carrying injuries that we don't know about.
This is a game that Leeds can win, but could also so easily lose. We'll be relying on massive games from the senior players and we will have to be right on top of our game to retain the trophy and win the first ever Leeds back-to-back championship.
Three Rhinos who'll decide our fate;
This is the fifth meeting against the Saints this season and we have a bit of balance to redress. Saints are 3-1 ahead in the seasons tussles with only a narrow Rhinos victory at Knowsley Road early in the season to show for our efforts. Saints denied us a trip to Wembley when they humiliated us at the Galpharm by 26-16 and the drubbing we suffered at Knowsley Road a fortnight ago (38-10) will have been difficult for the lads to erase from their memories.
Last season we had won two out of three going into the final, but no-one could have predicted the way that we'd dominate the game to emerge as 33-06 winners.
Last season I tipped a narrow two point win for the Rhinos and for superstitions sake I'm doing the same again. I have to admit that I am a lot less confident than I was last season, the big loss two weeks ago being the main factor.
It should be a cracker as the best two teams, and the best two open rugby teams, come together for eighty minutes of pure drama. After capitulating in the Challenge Cup, and the poor show in the first play-off, the lads will be looking for a top drawer performance. If they can find it within themselves then we might just sneak it again!
The forecast for tomorrow is for rain throughout the day and into the match so a drenched pitch and a greasy ball is likley to play a big part in the game. If both sides look to play fast then there will be plenty of dropped ball and mistakes to add to the drama.
The bookies have given the Rhinos a eight point start on the coupon and I think that I'd be taking that as the result will be a close one. Even if we get behind I'm hoping that we won't roll over and die like we did a fortnight ago. Without the handicaps the Rhinos are 5/2 while the Saints are 2/5, the bookies really don't fancy our chances. Rob Burrow is 10/1 to repeat his Harry Sunderland Trophy feat of last season, while the Matt Diskin (winner in 2004) is at 20/1. I think I might be tempted by Scott Donald (12/1) or Lee Smith (16/1) as first try scorer.
It's going to be a fantastic night, hopefully one capped with glory as we lift the trophy while Saints fans once again trudge into the dark, cold and wet October evening. Have a safe journey and a safe night and get behind the lads 100%.
See you there.