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Play-Offs and Relegation explained

WITH one round remaining in Superleague, the top four positions are settled, which means that the following details of play-offs can now be confirmed.Week One:Friday 22 September 8pm - Elimination Play-Off 1Third Place v Sixth Place Leeds Rhinos v Warrington or Salford at HeadingleyWinner continues in Week Two, loser eliminatedSaturday 23 September 6pm - Elimination Play Off 2Fourth Place v Fifth PlaceBradford Bulls v Salford or Warrington at Grattan StadiumWinner continues in Week Two, loser eliminatedWeek TwoFriday 29 September 8pm - Qualifying Semi-FinalFirst Place v Second Place St Helens v Hull FC at Knowsley RoadWinner straight to Grand Final, loser continues in Week ThreeSaturday 30 September 6pm - Elimination Semi-FinalWinner Elimination Play-Off 1 v Winner Elimination Play-Off 2 Teams and venue to be determined following Week OneWinner continues in Week Three, loser eliminatedWeek Three - Final EliminatorFriday 4 October 8pmLoser Qualifying Semi v Winner Elimination SemiVenue to be decided, loser eliminatedWeek Four - Grand FinalSaturday 12 October 6pmWinner Qualifying Semi v Winner Final Eliminator at Old Trafford Manchester- - - - -Relegation from Superleague for 2007 now comes down to the results of two games - this weekend's Round 28 clash between Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, and the October 8 National League One Grand Final to be held at Halton Stadium Widnes.Whichever team loses this Saturday's Superleague clash is in line to be consigned to the National League for next season. Castleford lost this very game two years ago and had to spend 2005 in the National League before gaining promotion again for this season. Wakefield last played lower division league in 1998, winning promotion to Superleague for the following season.There remains one shred of hope for the loser of Saturday's match - that the winner of the National League One Grand Final may not be eligible for promotion. So far the RFL have announced that Hull Kingston Rovers, Widnes Vikings, and Leigh Centurions have each met the criteria and would be accepted for promotion to Superleague should they win through and be victorious in their Grand Final. However Whitehaven have controversially learned that their application for promotion would not be approved, after having previously met criteria leading up to the past two National League Grand Finals, and the Marras may take leave to appeal. It seems unlikely that the other two sides alive in the National League Play-Offs - Rochdale Hornets and Batley Bulldogs - have applied for or would be deemed eligible for promotion should they win through to the Grand Final and take the title.So for Castleford and Wakefield this weekend, the winner takes it all - and the loser is left to cheer for Batley, Rochdale or Whitehaven to win National League One if they wish to hold onto the slim chance they might avoid relegation...

Superleague R27 Preview

THIS weekend should give some clarity over the final order of the top six as well as the identity of the club facing relegation, as there are only two rounds remaining before the play-offs and a maximum of four points up for grabs for each club. Getting close to the end of a long season for some clubs and with other clubs jockeying for positions, this week could very well be the week of the upsets? Game on!

Superleague Round 26 Preview

THREE weeks to go before the play-offs and with the Challenge Cup safely in the St Helens trophy cabinet, teams are jostling for position at the top and bottom of the table, and players are now desperate to impress and earn representative spots. As this weekend marks the 100 year anniversary of rugby league being played with 13 players instead of 15, here are six more 13-a-side matches to get your teeth into. Game on!

Relegation watch...

WITH three rounds to go before the Superleague play-offs, the composition of the top six looks pretty set. It will only change if either Salford or Warrington lose their remaining three games while Harlequins or perhaps Wigan or Huddersfield also win all three of theirs. Possible by all means, but perhaps not very likely.So attention for the next few weeks will turn to the other end of the table, where teams are doing battle to avoid relegation to the division below for next season. Being relegated can have a big financial impact on a club, and can mean the exodus of many players and casual fan support. Some clubs bounce back from relegation, but some clubs don?t ? with the shift to an expanded franchise based system for Superleague from 2009, no club wants to risk being a step behind when push comes to shove. Amazingly there are five Superleague teams still in the running for relegation, so each match from here on is vital. How does it look for your favourite Superleague team? Which club holds the aces up their sleeve?Wakefield: 16 competition points, -124 points differentialR26: v St Helens (A)R27: v Bradford (A)R28: v Castleford (H)Players have been performing better in recent weeks under a coach in John Kear that seems up for the challenge. But it?s a tough looking draw for Wakefield ? away to the Challenge Cup holders and the reigning League Champions. A final round win over Castleford could see them jump the Tigers ? but only if Castleford don?t win another game. Chance of relegation 40 %Castleford: 17 competition points, -386 points differentialR26: v Harlequins (H)R27: v Salford (A)R28: v Wakefield (A)A string of recent losses (including one to Wakefield) will not have helped confidence in Terry Matterson's Tigers camp. But they have perhaps the easier draw of any teams in the bottom half of the table, and their destiny could be in their own hands ? if they can manage a win before they head to Wakefield for the final match. Chance of relegation 35 %Huddersfield: 18 competition points, -146 points differentialR26: v Salford (H)R27: v Catalans (A)R28: v Bradford (H)Huddersfield will be hoping their trip to France against bottom-placed Catalans will net them the necessary points to pull clear from danger. But if Wakefield can surprise St Helens or Bradford, then the Giants will need another win for safety ahead of the final round. So expect a spirited performance this week against Salford as Huddersfield try and re-focus from the Cup Final experience and get ahead of the relegation game. Chance of relegation 10 %Wigan: 18 competition points, -114 points differentialR26: v Bradford (H)R27: v Harlequins (A)R28: v Hull (H)Penalised two points for a 2005 salary cap breach, Wigan finds themselves still trying to make sure they avoid the drop. Good recent form should have the Warriors and Brian Noble feeling confident that they will compete in all three games, and pick up at least one win. But if they lose all three and Castleford win one of their games, there could be a nasty surprise in store should Wakefield beat Castleford on the final Sunday... Chance of relegation 10 %Harlequins: 19 competition points, -275 points differentialR26: v Castleford (A) R27: v Wigan (H)R28: v Salford (H)Harlequins can make sure of their status for next year with a win over Castleford this weekend to put them four points ahead of the Tigers with a virtually unsurpassable points difference in their favour. But if Wakefield can pick up a Cup hangover win against St Helens, a loss against Castleford this week would see the London club frantic for some points in their remaining games against Wigan and Salford. Chance of relegation 5 %So there you have it! Only three weeks until we know which one of these teams is likely to be relegated to National League One for 2007 (with bottom-placed expansion club Catalans Dragons exempt from relegation). The teams confirmed by the RFL to be in the running for promotion to Superleague for 2007 are last season?s relegated clubs Leigh Centurions and Widnes Vikings, as well as Hull Kingston Rovers ? provided one of these teams wins the National League One Grand Final to be held in October. More about that one later...

Superleague Round 25 Preview

FOUR rounds left to play, but next weekend will be a rest for everyone except St Helens and Huddersfield who are contesting the Challenge Cup final. So teams will be going all out this weekend to climb a notch on the ladder before regrouping for their final chance to make this season count ? or to fight for their Superleague survival? game on!Friday: Wigan v HuddersfieldWigan can?t afford to drop a game in their ongoing quest to avoid relegation, and this match against Huddersfield is one they would be counting on for as an easier win ? if such a thing exists? Huddersfield have had a hot and cold season and now sit four points outside of sixth place and a play-off berth. The Giants have announced the signing of Shane Elford for next season, but could be excused for having one eye on next week?s Challenge Cup Final against St Helens. Brad Drew and Chris Thorman are out for the Giants, with Tom Hemmingway and Bolu Fagborun called into the squad. Wigan squad unchanged from last week?s win over Leeds, Brett Dallas still out through injury. Friday: Wakefield v Leeds at Atlantic Solutions Stadium? televisedMeanwhile, Eddie and Stevo will be bringing us the next episode of Wakefield?s quest to avoid relegation when they take on a vulnerable Leeds Rhinos. The Wildcats have been revitalised under new coach John Kear, who earlier in the season left his position at Hull. Without Monty Betham and Ned Catic they managed a win over Catalans last week, and will be hoping to do the same against a Rhinos side that has lost it?s last five on the trot and is still without the injured Danny Maguire. Willie Poching is called back into the Leeds squad along with Chris Feather and Nick Scruton, while French halfback Maxime Gresque may get some game time for Wakefield.Friday: Bradford v Castleford at Grattan StadiumAlso on Friday night, Castleford will want to make sure they stay one point above the danger zone with a win over Bradford, and will be helped by the return of first choice halves combination Peter Lupton and Danny Brough. But after losing 72-4 last week against St Helens, the Tigers will need a big turn around to match it with the Bulls. Bradford have their own worries though, having been docked two points in relation to a breach of last season?s salary cap, and having been surprise losers against Harlequins last week. For Bradford Terry Newtown is out through injury, with Matt Cook and Karl Pryce returning to the squad.Saturday: Warrington v Harlequins ? televisedMark McLinden rejoins a victorious Harlequins squad which looks to get within one point of sixth place and a play-off berth should they beat Warrington here. Joe Mbu and Zeb Luisi are also available for the first time in a month, and the London-based club has announced the signing of Scott Hill for next season. Warrington went down narrowly to Salford last week, and with new England coach Paul Cullen in charge should know that a win here virtually makes certain they?ll feature in the finals. Will that be enough motivation for the Wolves to beat the Harlequins? This could be the game with the most at stake this weekend. Sunday: Catalans v St HelensThe French side are now alone at the bottom of the Superleague table, and without the threat of relegation to spur them on may not make up any ground on their rivals. St Helens however are giving them the best chance by naming a squad with up to nine players set to make their Superleague debut while they rest their stars ahead of next week?s Challenge Cup final. In Trent Hodgkinson they have even named a 36 year old hooker who has not played first grade for 12 years! How will the Dragons react to playing Saints reserve team? They will be without Renaud Guigue and Pascal Jampy, but Thomas Bosc and Laurent Frayssinous are available again. Sunday: Hull v SalfordSecond placed Hull look to score an important win over play-off rivals Salford, and should have centre Kirk Yeaman to help them. Yeaman has been injured for two months but was scoring more than a try a game before injury. Hull prop Paul King is suspended for this match, following a dangerous throw. Not much news from Salford this week, but they?ll be hoping to build on their one point win over Warrington and catch the Hull side on the hop in this one.

Superleague Round 24 Preview

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!

Superleague R22 Preview

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

C. Cup Semi Final Previews

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.

Round 22 Superleague Preview

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.

European WC Qualifying matches

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, or via the 'World Cup 2008' link in the sidebar near the top left of the screen.

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