Old Trafford line-up offers up proof of unpredictability

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There was a time when the thought of another Leeds Rhinos v St Helens Grand Final would be as appetising as mouldy bread.

Three consecutive Old Trafford meetings between the sides had left everyone jaded and in need of a much-needed change.

It all became a little too repetitive as the top-two finishing sides held their annual battle.

Through no fault of their own – each contest was compelling for its own reasons – it was not good for the game and so their was a palpable sense of relief from many when Wigan broke the monotony last year taking Leeds’s place in Manchester.

Most people thought that would extend further this season with Wigan and Warrington seemingly pre-ordained in June as the 2011 Grand Finalists.

However, while Wigan and Warrington were undoubtedly the two best sides in Super League this season they could not deliver when it mattered most as was shown by last weekend’s shock semi-final results.

And so here we are again preparing for yet another Leeds v Saints Grand Final. And do you know what? Bizarrely, it is a really exciting prospect.

There may be so many familiar faces treading the Old Trafford turf tonight – Sinfield, Peacock and Burrow, Graham, Roby and Wellens – in the same colours and no doubt with the same amount of rain lashing down but something is distinctly different.

The very fact that they are not the top two any more suddenly brings a whole new dimension to the contest.

Few would have believed there would ever be a Grand Final consisting of the fifth-best team in Super League against third; it hardly happens that one club breaks the top-two duopoly never mind two.

One of the leading sides may need a second stab at getting to Old Trafford but the league leaders and their runners-up ordinarily do both end up there either the simple way or through some other convoluted manner.

And so, it is very refreshing to see Leeds and Saints spoil the party.

There would be no surprise now to see them play out a classic final and give further proof that Super League is not as predictable as many think.

The makings are there for an eye-catching contest given both sides’ propensity for playing attractive football.

Each likes to move the ball around and are encouraged to be liberal with their approach.

The expected rain may see that tempered but there is enough talent on show to circumnavigate that issue.

Each club can be rightly proud of its own English talent with so much of it on show, a reassuring sight for watching national coach Steve McNamara just two days before he announces his Four Nations squad.

He will undoubtedly have those 24 names already pencilled in but a few could rubber-stamp their spot or perhaps force their way in with a stellar display during this last 80 minutes of league action.

There are some who have not witnessed any of this before from exciting English youngsters like Ben Jones-Bishop, Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins plus the industrious Chris Clarkson to one of the world’s most experienced players Danny Buderus, who is looking to bow out in style.

Saints have Lee Gaskell, Tom Makinson and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook among others, such as ex-Castleford centre Michael Shenton, which is all great in adding some extra variety to what we saw between 2007 and 2009.

Saints scrum-half Jonny Lomax must know that a big performance from him against Leeds rival Danny McGuire could possibly see him nudge his opponent out of the England reckoning too.

It would be a brave decision by McNamara to pick the 21-year-old but he has proven himself this season as a player of real calibre and the England coach has already shown his willingness to take bold steps.

Amid all the furore around his decision to select Rangi Chase in his train-on squad, personally, I think he got that spot on.

Put simply, England cannot afford to ignore the New Zealander.

The elusive stand-off has just been voted for by his peers as the season’s best player in Super League, edging past Sam Tomkins and James Roby who will be two of the first names on McNamara’s team list.

If this country had a surfeit of such world-class players available, just as Australia always seem to have, you could understand some degree of upset.

But, unfortunately, that is not the case. Someone, maybe Lomax or McGuire, will miss out due to Chase’s inclusion but McNamara cannot be condemned.

He has simply followed what other sports have done by utilising the residency rules and in doing so has added the sort of creative quality to his side which so many people argue England routinely lack.

Indeed, Chase is just the sort of player who would light up any Grand Final but, for now, we will leave that to these unusual suspects of Leeds and Saints.