FIVE rounds to go in Superleague, and big news mid-week over here is that Wigan have been deducted two competition points for a 2005 salary cap breach. Bradford?s hearing is yet to be scheduled but it is expected the league will seek a similar penalty in return for their alleged breach, while Hull, St Helens and Castleford have faced fines. Interesting times, and six interesting matches this weekend. Game on!
ROUND 22 sees a massive five games being played simultaneously on Friday night. Six rounds out from the play-offs and everyone still has something to play for? Game on! Friday: Hull FC v Leeds Rhinos at KC Stadium - televisedOutright second spot is up for grabs here and it?s one win each so far in clashes this season. Leeds have lost their last three games in a row, including being dominated by Huddersfield in last weekend?s Challenge Cup Semi Final. Danny McGuire remains unavailable but Leeds are expecting internationals Jamie Thackray and Clinton Toopi to make their club debuts. Hull won thirteen on the trot before losing to Harlequins a fortnight ago, and will be looking to bounce back to winning form with Paul Cooke, Gareth Raynor and Gareth Carvell likely to make their returns from injury. This should be a top clash between two top sides.Friday: Bradford Bulls v Warrington Wolves at Grattan (Odsal) StadiumOn the other side of Yorkshire it?s fourth versus fifth, as Warrington hope to establish their play-off credentials by continuing a four game hoodoo over the Bulls. Paul Rauhihi looks set to make his first appearance since May for the Wolves after recovering from a back injury. A win for Warrington would help keep sixth place Salford and others off their tail, while Bradford need the points to try and improve on their fourth placing in coming weeks. Will the hoodoo prevail?Friday: St Helens v Huddersfield Giants at Knowsley RoadIn Lancashire there?s a preview of the Challenge Cup final, and with Huddersfield already having scored one close win and one close loss against St Helens this season, this should be a tight contest. Captain Paul Sculthorpe has been named in the Saints squad to make his return from medial ligament injury sustained in the GB v NZ test match. Huddersfield are only two points outside sixth place and a potential play-off berth, so every game for the Giants from here on will count. Friday: Salford Reds v Harlequins RL at The WillowsSalford will hear a Government decision about their plans for a new stadium in late November, but for now they must stay focussed on maintaining their play-off spot. Losses to Wigan and Catalans have seen Salford edge closer to slipping out of the top six, and Harlequins are only three points behind and coming off their streak-ending win against Hull. Karl Fitzpatrick returns for Salford, while released winger Anthony Stewart may make his debut for new club Harlequins. Another match with a lot at stake, requiring both sides to put in their best performances. Friday: Wigan Warriors v Catalans Dragons at JJB StadiumRounding up the Friday night action Wigan look to put more distance between themselves and last spot against a Catalans side that are looking to do likewise. The Warriors are playing to avoid relegation, and the exempt French side are playing for pride and coming off a win against Salford last start. Pat Richards and David Vaealiki return to the Warriors squad in place of Kris Radlinski and Brett Dallas, following Wigan?s first loss in six matches last start against Warrington. It remains to be seen whether that set-back will dent their momentum, or whether the Dragons can give Wakefield a helping hand.Saturday: Castleford v Wakefield at The Jungle - televisedAnother Yorkshire derby on Saturday night with Castleford well placed to continue their successful return to Superleague and stay just off the pace of a play-off berth. Wakefield however will be desperate to turn their season around with new coach John Kear at the helm with the difficult task of helping the club avoid relegation. New Wildcats signing Tevita Latu will not be available while fulfilling community service obligations in Australia, while the Tigers will be without suspended half back Danny Brough. Desperation sometimes inspires surprising results in sport, time will tell if the Wildcats have what it takes to fight for survival.Points table ? six rounds to go:Saints 38Rhinos 32Hull 32Bulls 28Wolves 22Reds 20- - - - -Giants 18Harlequins 17Tigers 17Warriors 14Dragons 14Wildcats 12
NO Superleague games this weekend, as instead we focus attention on the Challenge Cup Semi Finals. This year?s knockout competition has eliminated amateur teams, club sides from Russia and France, lower division British sides, and Superleague clubs, and now we are left with our final four. Who will win through to the Challenge Cup Final at Twickhenham on 26 August?Semi Final One: Hull Kingston Rovers (NL1) v St HelensSaturday 29 July, 12:30pm, Galpharm Stadium (Huddersfield)Hull Kingston Rovers are the sole National League One side to win through to this year?s semi-finals, having defeated Warrington, Featherstone (NL2), Hunslet (NL2), and York Acorn (amateur) along the way. Hull KR are sitting undefeated on top of the NL1 table, however recently lost the National Leagues knockout cup final to promotion rivals Leigh. Coach Justin Morgan came to Hull KR after success with French side Toulouse, who made last year?s Challenge Cup semi-final only to go down to Leeds. He has a well drilled side including players with NRL or Superleague experience in half back Jimmy Webster, winger Leroy Rivett, props David Tangata-toa and Francis Stephenson, and backrowers Michael Smith and Iain Morrison.However the firm favourites will be St Helens, who sit atop the Superleague ladder three wins clear of their nearest rivals. On their way to this year?s semi-finals they have beaten Catalans, Bradford, and Doncaster (NL1). St Helens have named a near full strength squad for the match, missing only their captain Paul Sculthorpe through long-term injury, and halfback Sean Long tipped to make a return after missing the past two matches with a leg problem. Jamie Lyon was cleared to play after being sent off for a late tackle last week against Leeds and not receiving a suspension. Hull KR will definitely take the game to St Helens, but it will be a tough ask for the underdogs to get the victory here. Semi Final Two: Leeds Rhinos v Huddersfield GiantsSunday 30 July, 3:00pm, Grattan (Odsal) Stadium (Bradford)Huddersfield have overcome Salford, York (NL1), and Halifax (NL1) on their way to this year?s semi-finals, and a victory here and a place in the Challenge Cup Final would come as a huge highlight for a club that has struggled during the Superleague years. Currently sitting seventh on the Superleague table, the club will hope to continue its momentum towards a possible top six finish with a win over their more fancied rivals. Huddersfield have lost to Leeds twice in league matches this season, but are more than capable of the upset, having been the team to put an end to leaders St Helens? undefeated run. They will be looking to their forwards to match the Leeds pack and then for the creativity of Chris Thorman, Robbie Paul and Brad Drew to bring some points.Leeds were runners up in the Challenge Cup final last year, and will be looking to go one better with a win to qualify for this year?s final. The Rhinos are in equal second on the Superleague ladder and having beaten Harlequins, Rochdale (NL1) and Leigh (NL1) along the way to the semi-finals, need to bounce back after recent losses to Castleford and St Helens. Leeds are without Gold Coast bound fullback Richie Matthers due to long-term injury, but otherwise have named a full-strength squad with some concern over stand off Danny McGuire who copped a knock last week. Recent recruit Clinton Toopi will not arrive in time to be considered for this game, and prop Jamie Thackray is ineligible having played a Cup match for Hull earlier in the season. Leeds at their best are a creative and fast paced team, will be favourites here but it?s a match that could easily go either way.Broadcast DetailsBoth matches are televised live on BBC free-to-air across the UK, with radio commentary for Saturday?s game on BBC Radio Five Live, and for Sunday?s game (probably) on BBC Radio Leeds. In NZ on Sky Sports Hull KR-St Helens is a delayed telecast at Sunday 1:30pm, Huddersfield-Leeds is broadcast live at Monday 2:00am, with replays on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively at 8:00am. In Australia both games will be delayed telecasts on Fox Sports: Hull KR-St Helens at Sunday 12:30pm, Huddersfield-Leeds at Monday 6:00am.
THIS week is shaping as very important as the Superleague play offs draw ever closer, and most clubs will have a week off next weekend while the Challenge Cup Semi Finals take place. So there?s nothing to lose, and a win you can gloat about for two weeks can be double the fun. Game on! Wakefield v Bradford ? Friday (televised)This game is interesting because it could go a long way to deciding Wakefield?s potential relegation fate. The Wildcats need to get off the bottom of the table and fast, and the only way to do that is to start to win some games. Things are so desperate that Wakefield have parted ways mid-week with coach Tony Smith (not to be confused with his Aussie namesake), and their assistant coach has defected to Bradford. So the trainer has been left to run the show, and the chief executive will be picking the side. It?s a time for senior Wakefield players to stand up and be counted, but it?s also a time where a strong team like Bradford is more likely to exploit the current vulnerabilities. Harlequins v Hull ? SaturdayThe Hull winning streak rolls on, and having now reached equal second place it?s destination London, where the Harlequins are not quite in the top six, and not quite safe from potential relegation either. Hull seems to have achieved a sense of purpose and consistency under coach Peter Sharp, who took over mid-season. Harlequins have their own coaching changes to get used to, with Brian McDermott recently taking change of the side as Tony Rea moving to a Board of Directors role. If this goes to form Hull could be breathing down the neck of the leaders, and Harlequins still looking over their shoulder. Leeds v St Helens ? Saturday (televised)A clash between equal Second and First place, with both teams still alive in next week?s Challenge Cup semi-finals. After going down to Cas last weekend this is a great chance for Leeds to try and peg back the front-runners, but will either team have an eye on next week knock-out game and will it affect their performance in this game? They?d be silly to not give this clash the respect it deserves first, not only to get the psychological advantage should both sides win their Semi Finals and be destined to meet in the Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham on 26th August. But in the meantime this clash is where all eyes should be.Catalans v Salford ? SaturdayCatalans don?t have to worry about relegation just yet, but will want to get off the bottom of the ladder anyway when they host Salford in Narbonne. Salford?s coach Karl Harrison is probably out of action this week, recovering from an injury sustained while playing soccer for captain Malcolm Alker?s testimonial that will leave him on crutches for eight weeks. His absence this week will have made some difference to Salford?s chances and this could be an ideal opportunity for the Catalans to recoup some points at the expense of the equal fifth placed team ? or for Salford to show their strength in the face of adversity.Warrington v Wigan ? SundayWigan?s great escape is well and truly in progress now, with the Warriors having climbed out of last place for the first time this season. Winning five games on the run has given this bits and pieces side a new confidence and if they continue their current form they won?t finish anywhere near the relegation spot. Warrington on the other hand are coming off a lost at the hands of Hull and need to make sure they compete for the points here, so that they will not be the team the drops out of the play-offs for Castleford, Huddersfield ? or perhaps Wigan themselves ? to take their top six place. There?s no Joey on the horizon for the Wolves this season. Would be surpised to see Wigan falter here.Huddersfield v Castleford ? SundayA classic mid-table clash here, with the winner getting the jump on their rivals to be the team closest to the top six on the road to the playoffs. There?s six more rounds left after this one, so getting the jump here might form the foundation for one final tilt at breaking into the big time. It would also be handy to be two points further away from last spot, as only five points separate these two very different fates. Huddersfield have been successful in winning their way through to next week?s Challenge Cup Semi Finals, and it remains to be seen if that has any bearing on this match. Castleford come into this match with a win over Leeds ? the last team to beat Huddersfield and the team that due to play in next week?s knockout. Could go either way.
THE European Qualifying stages for the Rugby League World Cup will begin in October and November this year, and continue in October 2007.Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Lebanon, Georgia and Russia will be competing in a home and away series within two groups. The highest ranked team in each group will then qualify for the World Cup Finals to be held in late 2008. The second placed team in each group will also have the chance to take a place in the World Cup finals through a repocharge round to be held in November 2007.The fixtures have been announced by the RLEF as follows.October 21st/22ndQualifier 2 v LebanonOctober 21st/22ndScotland v Qualifier 1October 28th /29thLebanon v IrelandOctober 28th /29thWales v ScotlandNovember 4th/5thIreland v Qualifier 2November 4th/5thQualifier 1 v Wales Please note that venues are to be confirmed, and that Georgia and Russia have qualified for this stage by finishing as the top two teams from the recent European Preliminary WC Qualification Group.The 2nd ranked teams from the two European qualifying groups will play off as part of the Repecharge Round in November 2007. The winner will then play the winner of the 3rd ranked Pacific qualifying team and highest placed Atlantic team to become one of the ten teams to compete in the World Cup finals.Details of qualifications and other World Cup news can be found at http://worldcup.leagueunlimited.com, or via the 'World Cup 2008' link in the sidebar near the top left of the screen.
THE Atlantic Group Qualifying stages for the Rugby League World Cup will be held in New Jersey USA in October this year. West Indies, South Afrcia, Japan and the United States will be competing in a round robin series where the highest ranked team will have a chance to take a place in the World Cup finals to be held in late 2008. The fixtures have been announced by the AMNRL as follows.Saturday 21st October West Indies v South AfricaUSA v Japanat Sand Castle Staidum, New JerseyWednesday 25th October Japan v West IndiesUSA v South Africaat Sand Castle Staidum, New JerseySaturday 28th OctoberSouth Africa v JapanWest Indies v USAat Sand Castle Staidum, New JerseyThe highest placed Atlantic team will compete in a Repecharge Round in November 2007, against the 3rd ranked Pacific qualifying team and the 2nd ranked teams from the two European qualifying groups. The winner of that knock-out series will become one of the ten teams to compete in the World Cup finals.Details of qualifications and other World Cup news can be found at http://worldcup.leagueunlimited.com, or via the 'World Cup 2008' link in the sidebar near the top left of the screen.
A gap seems to have opened up between the top six teams and those below who remain desperate to squeeze their way into the play-offs ? or avoid relegation at all costs. Either way teams at the top and bottom of the ladder will be desperate for wins this week to sort out the Superleague pecking order. Game on!
SOME important clashes this weekend, as Superleague gets one match closer to the play-offs. Only nine games to go, and this is the crunch time of the season where good clubs stand up and bad clubs can fall ? all the way down to a lower division. Round 20, game on!
TEN rounds left to play in Superleague this season, with the top four clubs looking to still fight for the highest position possible, and probably another seven clubs still in contention for the remain two play-off spots. And don?t forget the five clubs that are still at risk of finishing last and facing relegation?. It?s Round 19 ? game on!
SUPERLEAGUE moves into the second half of the season on what is a Bank Holiday (long) weekend here in England. The battle for top six play-off places begins in earnest, as does the battle to avoid potential relegation at the other end of the table. Friday night?s televised game sees the Bradford Bulls host the Leeds Rhinos at Odsal. Bradford will be desperate to appease their home fans after putting in what could only be described as a poor showing in last weekend?s Challenge Cup tie against St Helens. Second rower Brett Ferres put pen to paper mid-week to remain at Bradford until the end of 2008. And Brian Smith is now on board for a short-term voluntary consultancy, so this game will show whether his presence can help the Bulls fortunes at all. Mid-week Leeds fans learned that fullback Richie Matthers is leaving the club to ply his trade for the Gold Coast, and there is also conjecture over the future of GB International Chev Walker next season. After a comfortable victory against lower division Rochdale last weekend, the Rhinos will be looking to increase the intensity in this clash to score a vital win.Saturday night?s televised game will be coming from the JJB Stadium where Wigan host St Helens. On current form this should be the greatest of mis-matches, pitting the competition leaders against the cellar-dwellers. There is talk that St Helens may rest International half Sean Long who has been unable to train with the side, and may go into the game with teenager Scott Moore at scrum half. Centre Willie Talau agreed to terms mid-week that will see him staying a Saint until the end of 2008. This is a derby game with a longstanding rivalry between the clubs, so if Wigan are ever going to lift this season you?d think it would be for this match. But after being knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Salford last weekend, Wigan?s confidence must be at an all time low and this clash probably won?t help matters.Also on Saturday evening, Les Catalans host Wakefield in Perpignan, in what should be Stacey Jones? comeback game for the Dragons. The French side were too good for lower division Widnes in their Challenge Cup tie last weekend, which also saw replacement halfback Michael Dobson leave the club with a Man of the Match award in his final game. It will be all systems go for Catalans with their main playmaker back on board, in front of what should be a healthy home crowd. But Wakefield will be fresh following their weekend off having already been knocked out of Cup competition, and have recent re-signed forward Duncan MacGillvray for another two seasons.In the first of Sunday?s games Warrington host Castleford, but will be without club captain Paul Rauhihi who has been ruled out for three months with a back injury. With forward Rob Parker also yet to return from injury the Wolves could be vulnerable up front. Castleford unsuccessfully tried to secure Michael Dobson after his stint with Catalans finished, but will be left to persist with 38-year old veteran Brad Davis as their scrum half. Castleford are another team that will be fresh after a weekend off, but Warrington have the in-from Lee Briers guiding their side around the park, and following a comfortable win over lower division Whitehaven will be looking to put these competition points in the bank.Also on Sunday, Hull host "giant-killers" Huddersfield ? the only team to beat St Helens so far this season. Hull have been slowly returning to form with six league wins on the trot, and will be fresh after not having played Challenge Cup last weekend. Huddersfield have also been more impressive of late, scoring wins over St Helens and Salford, as well as a Challenge Cup win over lower division York last start. This game should be a real tussle with the two points vital for both teams.Finally on Holiday Monday, Salford close the round hosting Harlequins at The Willows. The Londoners will be getting nervous as they are closest to relegation danger if Wigan suddenly regain some form. Mark McLinden has re-signed for another three seasons mid-week, and may make his return from injury in this game. Last weekend Harlequins put 82 points on lower division opposition to progress in the Challenge Cup, but this week will be a different story. Salford haven?t been true to their high-flying early season form of late, with losses to Castleford and Huddersfield in the past month. Other sides are waiting for the Reds to be the team to drop out of finals contention, leaving an opportunity for them to creep into the top six. But their destiny is in their own hands and the rest of their season starts here?Competition Table (after 14 rounds):St Helens 26 Leeds 20 Bradford 19 Hull 18 Warrington 16 Salford 16 Huddersfield 12 Wakefield 10 Castleford 10 Harlequins 9 Catalan 8 Wigan 4