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Super League Round 27 Preview
Please note, starting this week the two televised games of Super League will be shown by Fox Sports in Australia on the same weekend they are played - not five days delayed. St Helens v Wigan will screen on Fox Sports 2 at Saturday 10am, and Warrington v Huddersfield will screen on Fox Sports 1 at Sunday 6am.
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Welcome to the final round of Super League Season XIII, the first without the threat of relegation hanging over the heads of any of the current Super League teams! The likes of Hull and Castleford at the bottom of the table can instead breathe easy, having been successful bidders for a 2009-2011 Super League licence as the competition expands to fourteen teams. The current twelve teams will be joined in the Super League next year by Salford City Reds and Celtic Crusaders, who are currently fighting out the National League One title.
The Super League top six have been decided, so all that remains to play for this week for some teams are positions within the six and home ground advantage for the next week's play-off matches. And from an individual perspective this weekend may be the last chance for some players to press for selection in Tony Smith's as yet unnamed England World Cup training squad.
St Helens v Wigan (Friday night, televised) Fresh from their Challenge Cup Final win at Wembley last week, St Helens get the chance to celebrate the title of League Champions (minor premiers) in front of their home fans with a win in this fiercely contested derby match. Wigan are currently in equal 4th place but some way behind Warrington on points difference, and look set to finish 6th behind Bradford unless they can upset the Saints here.
Experienced prop Nick Fozzard comes into the St Helens squad as a result of Paul Sculthorpe's Challenge Cup injury, while for Wigan Pat Richards returns for the injured Mark Calderwood, while Gareth Hock remains out through suspension, and Sean O'Loughlin looks likely to miss the rest of the season. St Helens have a good record against Wigan this year, and you wouldn't expect them to be troubled here. Wakefield v Leeds (Friday night) Second-placed Leeds may be looking to rack up a lot of points against 7th placed Wakefield, in the unlikely hope that St Helens suffer a shock loss and Rhinos might be able to claim top of the table with a 51-point turnaround in the two margins. Having beaten Wigan by 36 points last start, perhaps anything is possible?
Failing that, Leeds will be looking to get their combinations in order for the play-offs, with Scott Donald, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke all returning from injury. Wakefield will be disappointed with their slide down the table during the second half of the season, and bounced back with an away win against contenders Catalans only after their own season had moved out of reach. Tony Martin returns to the line-up after a two month absence and the retiring Duncan MacGillivray has been named Wildcats captain for his final club match.
Castleford v Bradford (Saturday evening) Tigers fans are used to important final round games, more often than not tied to their Super League survival. This time it's Bradford who have the most to play for, and may be possibly looking at 4th spot and a home play-off if other weekend results go their way.
Castleford are coming off a 20-point win over Warrington last start, and will be looking for a similar home performance against play-off contenders this week to finish their season strongly. Bradford hit some good form with a 24-point win over Hull KR a fortnight ago, and should be trying to produce their best footy in this game.
Warrington v Huddesrfield (Saturday evening, televised) Warrington have so far failed to consolidate a home play-off despite holding down the vital 4th spot on the table. With Wigan and Bradford breathing down the Wolves' necks, they are lucky to be coming up against one of the more inconsistent sides in Huddersfield this weekend. The result in this game should determine next week's play-off venues and match-ups.
Warrington were solidly beaten by cellar-dwellers Castleford last start, and will need to improve greatly to be sure of two points in this clash. Huddersfield will be looking for their 10th win of the season, ahead of Nathan Brown taking up the role of Giants coach in 2009.
Hull KR v Hull FC (Sunday midday) The fourth Humberside derby clash of the season will give the people of Hull something to be interested in; given neither of their sides will feature in the play-offs this season. Hull FC are coming down from their Wembley appearance where they took the lead in the Challenge Cup Final with 20 minutes to go, but Hull KR have enjoyed the better position on the table in 2009 and hold the 2-1 advantage when these sides have met. Only local pride and bragging rights at stake here.
Harlequins v Catalans (Sunday afternoon) The final game of the round should see the 3rd-placed Catalans Dragons going through the motions ahead of their home play-off next week. The French team have had a very impressive season of 16 wins and 2 draws, and head the pack chasing down the season's top two performers in St Helens and Leeds. Harlequins will be looking to end their season with a good performance for their home fans, but in 9th place with little to play for, you'd expect Catalans to be looking to avenge a last start loss to Wakefield and attempt to dominate this one.
Competition Table (after 26 rounds) 1 St Helens 26 21 0 5 924 441 483 42 2 Leeds 26 20 0 6 833 401 432 40 3 Catalans 26 16 2 8 670 591 79 34 4 Warrington 26 14 0 12 670 675 -5 28 5 Wigan 26 13 2 11 632 682 -50 28 6 Bradford 26 13 0 13 687 609 78 26 - - - - - 7 Wakefield 26 11 0 15 562 730 -168 22 8 Hull K R 26 10 1 15 528 705 -177 21 9 Harlequins RL 26 10 0 16 535 739 -204 20 10 Huddersfield 26 9 1 16 600 661 -61 19 11 Hull 26 8 1 17 530 663 -133 17 12 Castleford 26 7 1 18 577 851 -274 15
Next weekend's games 3rd v 6th 4th v 5th Both games sudden-death, the winners to meet the week after.
1st and 2nd teams get a bye next week, and play each other the week after for a place in the grand final.