The play-offs start a week early this year as Leeds and Castleford battle in a shoot out for the final play-off spot at Headingley.
It’s the biggest game at the redeveloped Headingley and is in many ways the biggest game of the season so far with one team set for an early holiday as the other sustains their Old Trafford dreams.
Add to this that it’s a local derby between two teams who are always trying to top each other and you have a recipe for an absolute classic.
Leeds will again be without David Fusitu’a through injury but Aidan Sezer is back from a ban as Ash Handley returns after missing the defeat to Catalans due to the birth of his child. Blake Austin is a doubt but has been included in the 21-man squad. Cameron Smith and James Donaldson are both back in the mix.
Castleford haven’t recalled anyone into the squad after the defeat to Salford but have lost Danny Richardson to injury and Liam Watts to a ban. The continued absence of Kenny Edwards and Gareth O’Brien doesn’t make things any easier for the Tigers.
Match Preview – Key Battles:
Zak Hardaker vs Greg Eden: Perhaps the best defensive fullback in the league takes on Greg Eden whose strength has always been in try scoring. This leaves Zak Hardaker with a difficult task on his hands as he tries to shut down the dangerous Eden. Hardaker himself offers a real offensive threat and will want to make a splash against his former side. All that said, we may see Eden named in the halves but his running threat may still fall to Hardaker to shut down whilst Jake Mamo may be at fullback equally offering an attacking threat for Hardaker to limit.
Aidan Sezer vs Paul McShane: Leeds missed Aidan Sezer sorely on Monday against Catalans. His return will give the Rhinos more game management and a more well rounded attack. He’ll be up against Paul McShane who will likely have to play out of position in the halves due to the injuries the Tigers have suffered upping the pressure on the Tigers’ playmaker.
James Bentley vs Joe Westerman: James Bentley has made the move to 13 recently and it’s really added to his game due to his tenacity in defence and his ability to poke holes in defences. He’ll need to be physically at his best to shut down the offensive threat offered by Joe Westerman.
Where the game will be won and lost:
The Tigers are crucially without some key players which will make their lives more difficult. The focus for them will be on rolling Leeds down field and finding different ways to score. However, Leeds have defended really well recently and can score from very little position. This may swing the game their way.
Score Prediction: Leeds Rhinos 24-18 Castleford Tigers