Super League Grand Final: Castleford or Leeds to get fairytale outcome?
|Betfred Super League Grand Final|
|Venue: Old Trafford Kick-off time: 18:00 BST Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Leeds, plus text commentary on BBC Sport. Highlights on BBC One - Sunday 8 October, 17:00 BST|
Once upon a time there was a Super League Grand Final, featuring two West Yorkshire teams dreaming of their own fairytale ending.
Big-city Leeds Rhinos against their small-town neighbours Castleford; the grizzled veterans against the high-fliers aiming to reach the top for the first time.
Tales of redemption, of journeys through thick and thin, of adversity to triumph.
BBC Sport channels Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm to preview the 20th Super League Grand Final.
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Castleford as... Cinderella?
The Tigers are in a similar boat to old Cinders. After all, they have never been to the ball - until now.
In the shadow of the 'ugly' sisters such as Leeds, Bradford and even Wakefield for so long, their turnaround from relegation in 2006 to potential champions 11 years later has been a heart-warming tale.
Thanks to their fairy godmother - perhaps chief executive Steve Gill or the late Jack Fulton - Castleford have gone from being within 30 minutes of extinction in 2013 to being a prudent, solvent business off the pitch, and a challenger on it.
Castleford's Prince Charming
Credit for the latter goes to coach of the year Daryl Powell, whose arrival at the Jungle in 2013 has coincided with Cas reaching a Challenge Cup final, winning the League Leaders' Shield and now being within 80 minutes of becoming champions.
The silver fox of Super League is as classy a coach as he was a player, building a team that plays rugby league to entertain and has now achieved success.
Himself a Cas lad, he has moulded fellow locals such as skipper Michael Shenton, Adam Milner and Nathan Massey - plus imports such as Grant Millington, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Ben Roberts - into a family as much as a team.
"There is a connection between the coaches and the players, we believe in each other," Powell told BBC Sport.
"We try to give them the plays that are effective, but then it's about the players themselves. They pick things up and apply them in pressure situations."
Despite that, Powell is not afraid to make tough decisions - such as dropping Zak Hardaker on the cusp of the Grand Final after "a breach of club rules".
Hardaker's 13 tries in 30 games helped the Tigers win the League Leaders' Shield and earned him a nomination for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.
A foot fit for the glass slipper
There can only be one man whose foot is so accurate and skilful to earn him the right to wear the glass slipper, and that is Tigers' influential half-back Luke Gale.
Having been released by Leeds, Gale's career took him to part-time rugby with Doncaster, then London Broncos and Bradford Bulls, before he joined the Castleford revolution.
The 29-year-old has been pivotal with 13 tries, 20 assists and a league-high 10 40/20 kicks, and even shrugged off appendix surgery to play a major role in getting the Tigers to the Grand Final with a golden-point extra-time drop-goal against St Helens.
As a result of his outstanding performances in 2017, Gale won the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.
Leeds writing their own story
Finding a narrative for Leeds is a little different. After all, the story of a rugby league team that generally wins trophies, coached by a former Royal Marine and professional boxer, does not really fit the fairytale template.
However, they are more than capable of writing a script. From fifth to champions two years running in 2011 and 2012. The triumphant treble and the end of an era as Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai all made way in 2015.
Their 2017 story is a combination of the two.
For adversity, read a ninth-place finish in 2016 and a battle to retain their Super League status, followed 12 months on by a return to the Old Trafford showpiece. Beast to 2015's Beauty you might say, to bring it back to the fairytale theme.
"It's pretty special, I know this is a huge achievement for this group," head coach Brian McDermott told BBC Radio Leeds. "There's an inner strength within my players, that only comes from extreme adversity.
"While we haven't reached anywhere near the heights Castleford have this year, the strength and the honesty we have because of what has gone on will be the difference. I think this is part of a great story.
"If we win it, it will be a bestseller. That's what drives us on."
Not just one hero, but two
All good fairy stories need a hero, a gallant knight or a brave and honourable soul. Leeds have two gentlemen of the game in their ranks to fit the bill.
The departure of Danny McGuire and retirement of Rob Burrow - two genuine Rhinos legends - add an extra emotional dimension to the contest.
Both have been match-winning heroes in the past, McGuire settling the 2004 final to earn Leeds a first title in 32 years, and Burrow ducking and diving his way to glory against St Helens in 2011.
This will be their last chance to write their names in Rhinos' folklore.
Beating the best
In terms of the formbook, Castleford are perhaps the worst possible opponents for Leeds, with the Tigers having won all four meetings this season and winning the past eight in total.
Leeds' losing streak only adds spice to the occasion, particularly for Burrow.
"To win a trophy you need to beat the best teams," Burrow told BBC Radio Leeds. "Castleford have been the best team this year without doubt.
"I'm from Castleford, you couldn't pick a better game for me. The town is renowned for rugby league.
"You empty the tank every week, but you know there is no tomorrow so I'll try to empty every single ounce of energy out there and hopefully for the better."