IT IS a famous West Yorkshire rivalry but tonight’s game between Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity is also set to be just as eagerly viewed as far away as certain households in Western Sydney.
Castleford’s Jesse Sene-Lefao, the New-Zealand born prop who grew up around Penrith in Australia and represented Samoa, is looking forward to facing his “family” away from home when Trinity arrive at Wheldon Road.
As he goes head-to-head with their pack, arguably the biggest in Super League, he already knows most of them all too well.
“I’ve got close mates over there,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“Me, Justin Horo, Tinirau Arona, Pauli Pauli, Dave Fifita… we’re all from the same area back home. We see a lot of each other here and playing against each other is massive.
“I played with Justin at Manly, I knew Pauli Pauli as a young kid coming through the Parramatta ranks but we meet off the field in England a lot as you know we don’t have much family around.
“They’re all probably our UK family here.
“It’s always been a big game against Wakefield and if we’re winning against them we’re just winning by a few points.
“But the whole week is massive; our training tempo is up, there’s a bit of trash talk between the two clubs on social media. I love it.
“It’s a good battle between the two towns – Cas always wanting to beat Wakefield and Wakefield always wanting to beat us.
“But between the two teams we have a pretty good relationship with the brothers over there.
“It’s a massive game for our families as well. They watch it back home (in Australia) with half the families going for Wakefield, half going for Cas and they both know each other as well so it’s good banter between the two.”
At one point, it seemed Sene-Lefao might not have any chance of even being on the field.
When the popular and effervescent front-row injured his knee against Wigan Warriors last month – he also missed six weeks after knee surgery in March – there were some fears his season could be over.
I’ve had a pretty tough season with injuries and in rehab’ it can get pretty dark being away from the team and not playing. But I’ve had awesome support off the field with my family and just to be out there last Thursday was massive.Castleford Tigers’ Jesse Sene-Lefao
However, the 28-year-old made his comeback in the 44-12 Super 8s win over Huddersfield Giants last Thursday and is now crucially primed to lend his weight to Castleford’s Grand Final charge.
“It meant a lot for me,” admitted Sene-Lefao, who won the League Leaders’ Shield and played in the Old Trafford loss against Leeds Rhinos when ever-present during his first campaign in the UK last year.
“I’ve had a pretty tough season with injuries and in rehab’ it can get pretty dark being away from the team and not playing.
“But I’ve had awesome support off the field with my family and just to be out there last Thursday was massive. I wasn’t supposed to play and then got called into the squad really late which made me real happy.
“There was a real buzz inside of me just to be back out there and playing with the boys.
“Initially, seeing the doctor and specialist we were thinking about surgery and all these things come into your head about your season being over.
“But once we got the ball rolling and had a set date to come back it was a weight lifted off my shoulders.
“To come back a week or two early was even better.”
Already guaranteed a top-four spot ahead of next week’s final round at leaders St Helens, Castleford are now crucially fine-tuning as they bid to make up for the disappointment of falling at the final hurdle last year.
The recent return from injury of not just former Cronulla Sharks prop Sene-Lefao but Man of Steel Luke Gale has been timely for a side now seeking a fifth straight win.
That said, Sene-Lefao – such a threat with his powerful carries and off-load game – realises he still has to get up to speed having missed out on three months of action.
“That Huddersfield match was pretty much my first contact session,” he revealed.
“I did a lot of running without contact but then those game-contacts are a bit tougher, rougher and faster so it was certainly just good to get the minutes and confidence.
“I didn’t play many minutes but it was a big boost just to be out there with the boys and now, this week, I’ve been getting my timing right.
“It’s just about building for that semi and then that Grand Final, I guess; that’s what our whole team is aiming to do.
“And I reckon we have the best set-up to get into that semi.
“None of our games are below-par; all our opponents are or can be top-four teams.
“It’s a good challenge for us again to go to the next level and hopefully we peak at the right time. I reckon these games coming up (against Wakefield and St Helens) are just perfect for us.”