Sky TV pundit Phil Clarke spent part of the week leading up to the Betfred Super League Grand Final taking part in the ‘Row for Rob’ canoe journey from Leeds to Wigan along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in aid of Rob Burrow and the Motor Neurone Disease Association charity.
A team of former players, including Clarke himself, Paul Cullen, Mike Forshaw, Brian Carney, Brian Noble and several others, as well as other participants who were perhaps not so famous, took turns at rowing the 100 miles along with the Grand Final match ball, while hoping to raise funds for Burrow and his fight to combat MND.
“It was a visible illustration of the Rugby League fraternity coming together in a good cause,” said Clarke.
“We had the match ball in the canoe and we transported it for the whole 100 miles. I only did four miles although Wayne Hoyle did all the 100 miles.”
Kevin Brown will present the match ball at today’s Grand Final, while Burrow will present the Harry Sunderland Trophy to the player of the match.
Meanwhile Clarke believes that the Catalans Dragons, who won this season’s League Leaders’ Shield, are going into today’s game with a tough job facing them if they are to overturn the favourites St Helens.
“To be fair, you would have thought that at the Challenge Cup semi-final at Bolton three years ago when the Catalans knocked Saints out of the Cup,” said Clarke.
“But in four of the last five Grand Finals the team finishing top hasn’t won it.
“Probably the most important factor today is the quality of St Helens’ defence, which has only conceded around eleven points per game. That is second only to Wigan’s record in 1998.
“So for the Catalans to have any chance, they also need to defend as well as that.
“Of course, great sporting events have a few different ingredients.
“For the Grand Final, one of those will be the warm-up, when all eyes will be on Sam Tomkins. Will he or won’t he, is he limping, is the knee okay? How is he travelling?
“What would happen to the Catalans’ players’ heads if he pulled out in the warm-up?
“Their mindset will be crucial, and it’s important to remember that clubs playing in the Grand Final for the first time don’t have a good record in it. Hull FC (2006), Warrington (2012), Castleford (2017) and Salford (2019) all lost in their first appearance in the Grand Final, so the Catalans will need to break that run if they are to win the game.
“Sometimes the underdogs in a match lose the game in the tunnel although the Catalans do have six players who have won a Grand Final either here or in the NRL.
“But I do think the start of the game will be crucial for them.
“If a team gets off to a bad start, energy can drain away from it. So it’s very clear to me that unless you can compete with St Helens in the first 15 minutes the game will be tilted in Saints’ favour.
“The Catalans will need commitment and perhaps even a bit of luck and if they are going to win I think they will almost certainly need to score first.
“I think we’ve had some great games this season and I am optimistically hoping that we will have another great game at Old Trafford. And I don’t think we need 30 points to have a thrilling game, as we saw in the NRL Grand Final.
“I’m sure that both teams will give us a great contest.”
Tune in to Sky Sports Arena from 4.30pm for the Betfred Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday, as well as the Women’s Super League Grand Final (3pm) followed by The Million Pound Game (6pm) on Sunday.
To donate to Row for Rob, go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/row4rob