Super League: Time for the Grand Final pendulum to swing back towards Yorkshire

WITH half of Betfred Super League’s dozen clubs consisting of Yorkshire representatives, you would imagine the county is well-represented in Grand Finals.

Historically, of course, it is: Leeds Rhinos have played in ten such occasions, including the first affair in 1998, and have won it eight times.

Before their unfortunate decline, Bradford Bulls featured in five successive finals between 2001 and 2005, lifting the trophy thrice.

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When it got to October, then, and its darkening nights, more often than not the Broad Acres had a club there just 80 minutes from glory. Indeed, only eight times in the 23 Grand Finals so far has the White Rose flag not been flying in some form.

Yet, worryingly, this Saturday’s showpiece will be the fourth successive season Yorkshire clubs have fired blanks.

That is not necessarily bad for the sport; new finalists have emerged of late, if not necessarily new winners, with Salford Red Devils appearing for the first time in 2019 and, this season, Catalans Dragons joyously reaching the Theatre of Dreams.

In 2017, the last time Yorkshire did have any say, Castleford Tigers played their first Grand Final, too, even if it did end in heartache against serial winners Leeds.

However, given that Wigan Warriors defeated Warrington Wolves in 2016, the stark reality is clubs from this county have only tread the hallowed turf once in six years.

Leeds Rhinos players celebrate with the Super League Grand Final trophy after beating Castleford Tigers in 2017. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

Whether that can be remedied any time soon remains to be seen. Certainly, when it comes to the prospect of actually winning a Grand Final, Catalans have stood out this term when lifting the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time. You sense they will only grow further regardless of the result in this weekend’s maiden Old Trafford appearance.

Defending champions St Helens, for their part, show no signs of slowing or dropping off as they make their bid for a third successive title. Moreover, with youngsters of the calibre of Jack Welsby, Lewis Dodd and Matty Lees, their talent production line is doing just fine. In fact, the manner in which both Saints and Catalans swept aside Leeds and Hull KR so convincingly in last week’s semi-finals – 38-10 and 28-10 respectively – suggests there is a serious gulf in class between the top-two and the rest of Super League.

With Yorkshire’s clubs remaining in their rut, for this correspondent, it means there is another year of hunting around for Yorkshire-related Grand Final tales. Steve McNamara’s success story is an obvious one, the Catalans coach who grew up in and captained Hull and then excelled at Bradford Bulls where he honed his coaching skills and eventually managed England.

It might be time to delve into the career of Catalans’ ex-Wigan hooker Michael McIllorum, for example, who grew up in Leeds and played for the notoriously tough Queens club.

THE LAST TIME: Danny McGuire dives over for Leeds' Rhinos second try in the Super League Grand Final against Castleford Tigers in October 2017. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Or perhaps look at how Joe Batchelor ended up at Saints via Coventry Bears and York City Knights while his younger brother joined their home city club, Wakefield Trinity?

One thing is certain: I definitely cannot ring Dewsbury-born former Batley Bulldogs and Leeds Metropolitan University prop Alex Walmsley again...

It is hard to imagine, though, that the pendulum will not swing back in favour of some Yorkshire clubs soon.

Leeds, who won at Wembley last year and got to within 80 minutes of this season’s Grand Final, have a nice blend of youth and experience and you sense some fine-tuning could see them challenge once more.

St Helens celebrate with the trophy after winning the Super League Grand Final at the KCOM Stadium Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Likewise, Castleford tasted the big occasion this term, too, when they lost the Challenge Cup final against St Helens at Wembley.

How will they evolve now Lee Radford has succeeded Daryl Powell has head coach?

The Robins’ appetite has only been whetted by their adventures this term but Tony Smith’s side cannot now stand still and there will be an expectation on them to deliver further in 2022. It would not be a surprise if they did.

Huddersfield Giants continue to invest heavily and - especially in a top-six play-offs format - they have the potential to plot a way to Old Trafford.

Similarly, Hull FC will feel the same but they are a curious case and it is hard to gauge when, or if, they will add to their solitary Grand Final appearance of 2006.

Wakefield Trinity will be refreshed under Willie Poching but reaching Old Trafford would be akin to Salford’s shock passage.

There could, of course, be a seventh Yorkshire team in Super League in 2022 if Featherstone Rovers defeat Toulouse Olympique in Sunday’s Million Pound Game.

Now, just imagine if they could get in that mix...