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While few would argue that the ESL competition is currently more competitive than ever, this weekend reinforced the fact that there is still a clear division between the genuine contenders and the also-rans. After coming so close to springing upsets Warrington, Widnes and London fans must be crying in their beers, after their teams were mowed down by ?Big Four? opponents.
The most heartbreaking scenario is surely that of Warrington, who led by two points only to have Sean Long kick both a penalty and field goal in the last two minutes, thus sealing victory for St Helens. This result was mirrored in the Wigan-Widnes clash where Dennis Moran kicked a late field goal to snatch victory 23-22.
London also failed to consolidate a promising effort against ?Big Four opposition on the weekend. London led Bradford 18-0 at the break and only needed to continue to consolidate field position to allow them a chance to post an upset at home. They chose however to panic and allowed Bradford to overrun them and post a comfortable 15 point victory.
Due to the fact that Bradford, Wigan and St Helens have been willing to make brave decisions and come up with winning plays, the plight of their opposition is all too common. The ?Big Four? of the ESL have always had an air of invincibility to them. An invincible team, by definition, cannot be beaten, so when a battling team like Warrington is leading a juggernaut like St Helens no wonder players are capable of a crisis in confidence.
It is this feature that proves the difference between pretenders and contenders: self confidence. Leeds have it, St Helens have it, and until the Londons and Warringtons of the ESL can gain such confidence they will continue to find new and interesting ways to be beaten.