The most incredible fairytale season in recent Rugby League history could come to an end tonight, as Castleford Tigers and Warrington Wolves slug it out to be just 80 minutes away from Old Trafford.
The victor knows that one more win after tonight will ensure they make the Grand Final on October 11, whilst the loser will see their season brought to a premature conclusion. And whilst Castleford have encapsulated the Rugby League world with their fairytale season, fairytales do not always have a happy ending.
Daryl Powell has made somewhat of a habit out of squad rotation this year, and two of the Tigers’ biggest games this season have seen Powell make some daring team selections. He left Garreth Carvell out of the Challenge Cup final line-up, whilst last week he omitted Marc Sneyd from the team to face St Helens – a game they eventually lost 41-0.
Powell has a big dilemma on his hands this week, namely whether to bring back Sneyd who, by his own high standards at least, has been way off form since that defeat at Wembley. Sneyd was hauled off after 20 minutes that day, and it justifies that Powell is not afraid to make big decisions as and when they are required.
But with a game of such importance – namely a sudden death environment – on the horizon, there is argument to suggest Powell invests faith in those who have got him this far. Finishing fourth in Super League is an incredible achievement for the Tigers, and credit must be paid to every single player who has played a part in that journey.
And although several of their key players have stuttered in recent weeks, the potential to leave some of them out at this stage could be terminal for their Grand Final hopes.
However, there will be those who believe that form is the key heading into the play-offs, not a fondness to rely on those who have done the job in the past. With just 80 minutes between one club and the end of their season, Powell may opt for the other choice, and take a punt on some fringe players to get the job done.
That is a method he has already used several times this year, often to great effect. If there are worries about the form of the half-backs who have done the job all year, perhaps Powell has one more brave selection up his sleeve that will shock us all. The inclusion of Sneyd after being left out last week seems a virtual guarantee – but is Daryl Powell prepared to gamble on a man so out of form? In many ways, that adds another fascinating sub-plot to what is sure to be a brilliant play-off clash.
Castleford fans will be repeatedly checking their phone in the hours preceding kick-off to find out which 17 men will be taking to the field. And knowing Daryl Powell and his track record of selection surprises, it would take a brave man to guess the correct line-up.