Yates’ verdict: Saints Grand Final woe

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I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, especially if they live on the east side of the Pennines, but I firmly believe Saints’ best hopes of reaching the Grand Final virtually ended when Castleford chose to field a much weakened side against Hull FC at the Jungle a few weeks ago.

As far as I’m concerned leaving out Michael Shenton, Adam Milner, Zak Hardaker, Nathan Massey and Grant Millington - and the influential Luke Gale side lined by injury - virtually handed two Super 8 points on a plate to the Airlie Birds, reflected in a one-sided 48-16 scoreline.

Cas, who had previously lost only once on their home ground this season to St Helens, would, in my opinion, have won that showdown had they fielded a much stronger side.

I know it is now only wishful thinking but victory for the Tigers on that night would have resulted, as events eventually turned out, with Saints finishing third in the table on a better for and against column than the Humbersiders and taking on Leeds Rhinos, instead of Cas, in the semi-final at Headingley where, in my view, they would have out-gunned the Loiners on the evidence of their form in the last few weeks.

I can understand Cas coach Daryl Powell’s decision to rest some of his key players as they were already guaranteed top spot but critics may feel it wasn’t in the spirit of the competition to do so.

Does any one else agree with my thoughts?

Still on the subject of the semi-finals - and in particular the clash between Leeds and Hull FC - the post-match TV interview with e Rhinos’ coach Brian McDermott will remain long in my memory.

Brian isn’t normally slow in expressing an opinion and during his time at Harlequins and Leeds he has also crossed swords with the media on countless occasion as I’ve witnessed first-hand.

But to watch a former Royal Marine, who served in Northern Ireland and the first Gulf War, so overcome by emotion and virtually unable to speak after the Loiners narrow victory shows there is another side to a coach often described as a tough nut.

Can’t wait to see his reaction if his beloved Leeds win the Grand Final for an eighth time against Castleford on Saturday night.

There is bound to be a mixed reaction to the Catalans Dragons 26-10 win in the Million Pound Game at Leigh on Saturday.

Traditionalists will have been rooting for the Centurions to maintain their Super League status after one season at the top table while supporters of further expansion into Europe and beyond will have been backing the French side to the hilt

Parochialism or bringing more foreign sides into the competition was the only issue on the agenda and while many feel it would have been a disaster if coach Steve McNamara’s side had suffered relegation to the Championship, you will have a great deal of sympathy for Leigh who have made major strides in the last few years, including the building of a new stadium.

Let’s hope they can bounce back as quickly as possible as they are well equipped for Super League status as far as facilities are concerned.