FORMER York City Knights favourite Greg Minikin heads into the biggest game of his life tonight - with his old mentor James Ford predicting possible international honours further down the line too.

Minikin, who rose through the Knights' youth system under Ford to become the joint-Press Player of the Year in 2015 prior to his switch to Castleford, helped the Tigers to their first-ever top-flight championship success this year - and into their first-ever Super League Grand Final following that breathtaking extra-time semi-final victory over St Helens.

They take on Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford (6pm), with Tigers team-mate Alex Foster - who likewise graduated from the Knights' old scholarship - providing another strong York link in the showpiece event.

Knights head coach Ford always tipped his former protege for Super League. But asked whether he expected the Knaresborough-born 22-year-old to bag a League Leaders medal and an Old Trafford appearance, he said: "I hoped he would do well.

"There are any number of factors that can influence a young player's development, though, and it's always hard to predict anything with any great accuracy.

"But Greg had a number of positives about him as a player and a person and I was always confident he'd be a good player.

"He still needs to improve some areas and I'm sure he will do at a place like Castleford - there's no better place at the moment, with their wonderful environment, fantastic coaches and excellent senior players."

He added: "I never really thought about what he would win or not win as a player - I just focussed on helping him develop. He's always had potential and his improvement to such standards has been facilitated at Cas."

Minikin - a centre at York and now a free-scoring winger with Cas, with 22 tries in 28 appearances this year, including a 20-minute hat-trick earlier in the season against tonight's opponents Leeds - has never forgotten his roots and regularly attends Knights matches when not on Tigers duty. Ford reckons this down-to-earth attitude could yet propel him into the England ranks.

"We'll have to see - I'm not picking the team," said Ford, when asked if Minikin had a chance of getting into the World Cup squad which is due to be announced on Monday.

"If not now then maybe a couple of years down the line.

"He's very down to earth. He'll know where he needs to improve and I'm sure he'll be working hard on those areas, so why not?"

As regards Minikin's Bootham Crescent visits, Ford joked: "He's not shy of asking for a free ticket.

"He's always welcome. He's a really humble guy and he's really friendly still with a number of players like Ed Smith and Harry Carter, who he played with in the reserves, and he'll know Ash Robson from being at Cas. He's still in frequent touch with a number of them."

Ford, having plucked Minikin from the Wetherby Bulldogs junior ranks, tutored him through the old academy and reserves at the Knights, as well as in the first team, and they remain in touch - the pair even met this week for a "coffee and catch-up". Yet he humbly reckoned he played only a "small part" in the table-toppers' rise.

"I'm proud of a number of young players I've coached and of the small part I've played in their development," he said.

"I don't claim to be a massive part in Greg's development. He's gone to Cas and worked with (Tigers boss) Daryl Powell and that's helped him kick on to another level.

"But there's a part of me that is proud, and I'm equally proud of what kind of bloke he is as well."

Meanwhile, as reported, Cas were dealt a severe blow in the build-up to tonight's game after England full-back Zak Hardaker, a Man of Steel nominee, was omitted from their squad after "breaching club rules". The details of the breach are yet to be confirmed.

Leeds, on the other hand, received a boost yesterday when Stevie Ward was amazingly cleared to play.

The forward spent last Friday night in hospital after dislocating his shoulder in the semi-final win over Hull, going into theatre the following morning to have the shoulder relocated. He saw specialists this week and passed a fitness test at final training yesterday morning.