St Helens showed this week why I really fancy them this year, and it is unfortunate now that either Saints or Grand Final foes Leeds will end the other team’s season. Unfortunate may be the wrong word. Leeds lost and must thus meet Nathan Brown’s in-form team. Indeed Leeds were well beaten by Warrington who will now be fiercely confident of returning to the Grand Final. I got a bit of stick for “writing off Wigan” ahead of their win at Huddersfield, with some even claiming that such comments from the media may have provided extra motivation for Shaun Wane’s side. While that is quite flattering it is absolute nonsense and Wigan again showed what a champion side they are. Will they win the Grand Final this year? I still think not, but it is a game of opinions and we can’t all be right. Huddersfield now have the pressure of the “I told you so” mob if they again fail to translate their outstanding regular season run into playoff success. I have faith in the Giants and expect to see a response against Hull in what could be a very tasty game indeed.
Warrington coach Tony Smith makes no effort to hide his dislike of the dubious honour afforded to his club by Club Call. This is the fifth season that the highest ranked team from week one has been allowed to choose their next opponents, and Tony feels it adds nothing to the competition. I don’t like it either if I’m honest, but I don’t agree with Tony that it doesn’t matter who you play. I spoke at length to Gary Hetherington about this last week and he does see it as an advantage. In simple terms you pick who you think you have the best chance of beating – and although it can often be a double-edged sword in motivating your chosen opponents, the fact that you have the opportunity to make that selection is hardly a disadvantage to you.
It’s almost time to talk Man of Steel again and for me there are three outstanding candidates. Leeds prop Jamie Peacock encapsulates everything the award is about and has again been magnificent. He quite rightly took home both Player of the Year awards for the Rhinos this year. The man I can see preventing JP winning the award is Danny Brough who has been sensational. Take away all the off-field arguments about why he is or isn’t playing international rugby league and for whom, and Brough has been the best scrum-half in the competition this year by some distance. My third choice would be Shaun Lunt. I’m so pleased for Lunty that he’s blossomed as a player since returning to the Giants from Leeds where he wanted to stay. He has given Steve McNamara a lot to think about ahead of the World Cup.
Speaking of which the BBC’s coverage of the competition is starting to come together. We are going to have some fabulous access and coverage on radio 5 live and Sports Extra and I’ll have more details on that in due course.