The 2017 Super League season has revolved around the Castleford Tigers, as Daryl Powell’s side set the pace at the top of the table, playing some of the most attractive rugby league the summer era has ever seen.
Interestingly, over the course of this season, Castleford’s rivalry with the Leeds Rhinos has grown, partly due to Zak Hardaker’s decision to leave Headingley for The Jungle, after his sensational Rhinos career came to a sour end.
Castleford have beaten Leeds on all three occasions they have met so far this season, with the most impressive of those a 66-10 victory back in early March. The Rhinos have been unable to cope with the Tigers, but they are still their nearest challengers and the most likely Super League club to stop Powell’s side lifting a trophy at Old Trafford later in 2017.
The Super League trophy is not the only award we may see Castleford and Leeds’ players competing for, with the biggest individual award in the English game, the Man of Steel, also up for grabs.
With that in mind, here is a look at three contenders from Castleford and Leeds:
Parcell has excelled since his move to Leeds from the Manly Sea Eagles in the close season, with the hooker proving to be one of Super League’s best signings in 2017.
The 24-year-old has been central to everything good Brian McDermott’s side have done this season, with the general feel that when Parcell plays well, so do the Rhinos.
The young hooker has 13 tries to his name this season, as well as 11 try assists, putting himself up there as one of the competition’s most creative players.
Parcell also makes a telling contribution in defence, making 879 tackles so far this season, leaving him as the club’s top tackler.
Gale has been instrumental in Castleford’s dominance this season, with his management of the side exceptional. The 29-year-old has played himself into Wayne Bennett’s England squad and it is almost certain we will see him lining up at the World Cup later in 2017.
The scrum-half has scored 12 tries this season and added 18 try assists to that tally, whilst also kicking 112 goals and six drop goals.
It has certainly been Gale’s creativity that has put Castleford on the brink of creating history, and he is one of the many reasons why Powell’s side are priced at just 5/4 on bet365’s rugby betting page to lift the Super League trophy later this year.
It is likely that Hardaker will be in contention for a second Man of Steel award in three years, after a sensational turnaround in 2017 having joined Castleford.
Hardaker was part of the Leeds side that won the treble in 2015, with the player also picking up the biggest individual award in the competition. However, the full-back endured a difficult 2016, which saw him leave the Rhinos for Australia, before returning to join Castleford, initially on-loan, before making that move permanent.
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) August 12, 2017
This season, Hardaker has been back to his best, with nine tries and 13 try assists, putting him back in contention to be England’s full-back at the World Cup. Perhaps more impressive has been Hardaker’s running game and kick return, with the 25-year-old making 2950 metres in 2017, with an average gain of 8.55 metres.
Hardaker’s move from Leeds to Castleford has helped him rediscover his best form, and he looks comfortable in his new surroundings. There is every chance that the full-back could be the difference between his new and old club later in 2017, with the Tigers and the Rhinos on a collision course for an Old Trafford showdown.