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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 differential
R26: 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 differential
R26: 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 differential
R26: 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 differential
R26: 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 differential
R26: 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...