Rumours are rife that Senior will get a last minute call into the seventeen, possibly at the expense of Jamie Jones-Buchanan, but in times of mind-games and counter mind-games you just don't know. If Senior did make an appearance and the Rhinos win, it will be a seminal moment for Smith, should he play and we lose a second major final because of it, it could be the end of the Smiths Headingley road.
I expect Tony to stick with the seventeen who did the job so effectively at Knowsley Road a fortnight ago. Some shuffling of the pack may be in evidence, but the half back pairing of McGuire and Burrow clicked that night and it would be foolish to change it now. Fifteen of last years victorious seventeen will play their part in this years final, with only Furner and Senior being absent. The team spirit seems to have returned to the Rhinos, along with a nervous confidence that will keep the lads on their toes for the duration.
Brian Noble also has a full strength squad to choose from. Likely to start with Harris and Deacon at halves his side are on a massive roll, although looked somewhat less convincing against the Saints last week than they have done over the last few months. Most of these Bulls player tasted bitter defeat last year, who can forget the Harris tears as the Rhinos masses chanted 'Harris, Harris, what's the score?'. In Nobles named twenty there are seven players who didn't feature in last years game; Morley, Lynch, Ben Harris, Leon and Karl Pryce, Meyers and Henderson, but that still leave thirteen who know the heartache of losing the biggest game.
Three Bulls to contain;
Many of the players who will take to the Old Trafford turf on saturday night will do so for the final time wearing their current club colours. For some it it their swansong (Barrie McDermott) whilst others will be keen to show their loyalty to their current side before joining the opposition for next season (Peacock and McKenna). It makes for a very interesting dynamic.
In the final shakedown, the Rhinos 16-8 win last year will count for very little, except to give the Rhinos belief that they can win over the Bulls in a major final. This season the Rhinos have won twice; 42-12 and 36-26, whilst losing the last game in August by 10-42. The Bull come in to the game on the back of an eleven game winning run, last defeated by Wakefield Wildcats back on July 10th. On form alone, the Bulls should be favourites.
For the first time ever, I'm predicting a game to finish all square after eighty minutes, what happens in added time is anyones guess. This one really is too close to call and I expect it to go right down to the wire as the two heavyweights of the British game slog it out 'blow for blow'.
The Bulls should come into the game as slight favourites, although SportingOdds.com have the Bulls with a 2.5 point start (no tie). Both Teams are at 10/11 to win the game outright, with the eighty minute tie at 18/1 looking pretty good value. As ever your best markets are first try scorer with Danny McGuire 12/1 or scorer of last years opener, Matt Diskin at 25/1. Sinny is clear favourite to pick up the Harry Sunderland Trophy at 13/2, with last years winner Matt Diskin at 20/1.
Tomorrows weather is forecast to be 'mostly sunny' with pretty decent temperatures, the perfect conditions for open flowing rugby. Old Trafford is sold out with 65,537 people clutching their tickets in anticipation of a great game, only the big screen stops the game being an Old Trafford full house of 68.100.
The more I think about the game, the more nervous I'm starting to get. I'll be following last years routine to make sure that it isn't my fault if anything goes wrong. This is what we live for as supporters, and if anything it means more than last years win. The heartache of the loss in Cardiff is still there, and it will be for the lads, a win tomorrow night is the only antidote!
See you tomorrow night - give the lads everything that you've got to give!