THE Super League Grand Final perfectly summed up the entire season: not a classic, by any stretch of the imagination.
Everyone had hoped for a brilliant showpiece last week and the ingredients were certainly there given the presence of both Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos.
However, if they had conspired to deliver the aforementioned classic it would merely have papered over some cracks.
It hasn’t been a great Super League season. There have been some great performances, but, as a whole, it hasn’t been great.
Castleford claiming top spot for the first time in their 91-year history was, of course, a highlight and the manner in which they did so deserves to be celebrated.
Daryl Powell’s side, who finished 10 points clear of second-placed Leeds, were a pleasure to watch and produced some genuinely brilliant football at times that did wonders for the sport.
However, they did not deliver when it mattered most at Old Trafford, a catalogue of often unforced errors combining to see them falter badly under the Manchester lights.
Everyone presumed Leeds would have to play their very best to get near Castleford, but, in the end, they could afford plenty of mistakes, too, and yet still have enough almost to win 24-0 before Alex Foster’s last-minute try saved at least some of the Tigers’ blushes.
Powell will hope his side can learn from that painful experience and go one better in 2018. They have the potential to do that.
Brian McDermott’s Leeds side, though, deserve massive credit for the way in which they shrugged of criticism and negativity to once more prove they are kings of finding form when it is absolutely necessary.
Daryl Powell will hope Castleford Tigers his side can learn from their painful Old Trafford experience and go one better in 2018. They have the potential to do that.The YP’s Dave Craven
They were embroiled in a relegation fight 12 months before and the character and resolve shown to turn things around is a reminder to everyone of what can be achieved with the right mindset.
Clearly, the signing of Matt Parcell was a master stroke from McDermott, the Australian hooker – their only major recruit for 2017 – bringing so much to their all-around game and tieing things together so perfectly.
It was fitting that Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow – not just legends of Leeds but the whole sport – should have their glorious finale with McGuire, in particular, writing his own script with that stunning man-of-the-match display last Saturday.
Indeed, for all Parcell was possibly the signing of the season (Hull FC’s Albert Kelly and, before his late indiscretion, Castleford’s Zak Hardaker were his main rivals), Hull KR could well have 2018’s best buy if McGuire continues in that vein once at Craven Park.
But what were the other success stories?
Wakefield Trinity will rue missing out on the top four not once but twice yet can look back on a wonderful campaign that promises to be a building block for more to come.
Despite the smallest budget in Super League, they punched well above their weight under the fine stewardship of Chris Chester and in the shape of Liam Finn, Matty Ashurst and Scott Grix boasted some of the competition’s most under-rated, but highly-consistent performers.
Salford Red Devils, too, defied the odds to really threaten the status quo before fizzling out in the Super 8s while Hull FC – with back-to-back Challenge Cup successes – can reflect on another season of achievement.
That said, it is a sign of Lee Radford’s demanding attitude that the Black and Whites may see 2017 differently; he wanted a Grand Final, too, and fell short at the semi-final stage again.
It was Warrington Wolves’ turn to be the big gun in danger this time around – will Wigan or St Helens be in the Qualifiers in 2018? – even though standards did not seem particularly high this term.
It is hard to imagine them struggling so badly again next season and they will hope to replicate what Leeds have done by emerging from the abyss to conquer all.
Saints, though, will have caught the eye of many as this season drew to a close. With Ben Barba, the mercurial Australian full-back, starting to find his feet, the gifted Jonny Lomax reverting to stand-off and England team-mate Mark Percival so threatening in the centre, they started to look like a side of real potency during their impressive late surge.
Australian head coach Justin Holbrook has started to see his ideas played out. They may come to fruition in 12 months.