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Superleague Preview -
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!
Salford v Bradford (Friday)
Salford have added Danny Lima to the squad this week on loan from Warrington, and Kevin McGuinness return to the line-up after long-term injury worries for what will be a vital clash for the Reds. Salford have only won two of their last nine games after a stunning start to the season, by virtue of which they remain in the top six ? but only just. Coach Karl Harrison, the players, and The Willows fans will be keen for a win against a contender like Bradford, to rebuild confidence ahead of the final stages of the competition.
Bradford also had some minor stutters this month with Leeds keeping them scoreless and then only managing a draw with Castleford, but recent wins against St Helens and Huddersfield seem to have put things back on track. They are in fourth spot still in touch with the leaders and in little danger of missing out on the play-offs. Lesley Vainikolo is in doubt after taking a knock in Tuesday?s test match, but Terry Netwon and Shontayne Hape are expected to back up for the Bulls in this clash.
Catalans v Hull (Saturday)
Hull have won each of the seven games they have played since last meeting Les Catalans, and they won that encounter as well. In fact Hull have quietly gone about winning their last ten Superleague games on the trot to climb the ladder into third place. With only Motu Tony having played in the mid-week test, Peter Sharp?s squad should be fresh and supremely confident heading to Narbonne for this match-up.
Les Catalans have performed well in their first season under some difficult circumstances. They recorded their sixth win of the season last weekend in impressive style over Harlequins. Whilst officially protected from relegation in these early seasons, the French side will not want to make this to even become an issue and will be focussed on doing whatever they can to stay clear of bottom place. Stacey Jones and Alex Chan will be on hand following their appearance for New Zealand in the mid-week test, however most tipsters would expect Hull to be too strong over the 80 minutes here.
Harlequins v Wigan (Saturday ? televised)
Harlequins host a resurgent Wigan side that have scored wins over Catalans and Warrington while recently luring Stuart Fielden away from Bradford and encouraging Kris Radlinski to return from retirement. It?s almost a new look Wigan team compared to earlier in the season, following personnel changes and returns from some long-term injuries. Coach Brian Noble suddenly has some depth in his squad and, with Fielden, Harrison Hansen, Sean O?Loughlin and Iafeta Paleaaesina having played in the mid-week test, some tough decisions to make about who to leave out for each match.
Harlequins are coming off two recent losses against Warrington and Hull that have seen them fall away from the cusp of the top six, and into potential relegation danger. But the Londoners have won the two previous Superleague match-ups between the clubs this season, and in front of their home crowd will be looking to make it a clean sweep against Wigan. Luke Dorn suffered an elbow injury last week, but Thomas Leuluai is available to come into the squad. Both teams are capable of hot and cold form and it?s hard to pick a winner here.
Castleford v Warrington (Sunday - televised)
Warrington have beaten Castleford twice already in Superleague this season, and will be looking to make it a third this weekend to erase a recent losing streak since they last met the Tigers. Warrington have lost recent games in close circumstances to Harlequins and Wakefield, and then beaten by a bigger margin by a resurgent Wigan last week. Castleford have managed a recent draw against Bradford, a win over Huddersfield, but this was followed by a loss at the hands of Hull last week.
Warrington?s Henry Fa?afili and Martin Gleeson will be looking to back up from the midweek test. Castleford with home ground advantage and wanting to keep themselves away from the relegation zone will have everything to play for and this match could easily go either way.
Huddersfield v Leeds (Sunday)
Huddersfield host Leeds in what is an important game for both clubs in keeping touch with the sides ahead of them on the ladder. Leeds have been putting pressure on St Helens at the top, having remained unbeaten over the last four rounds, while Huddersfield will be looking to stay on the heels of the top six to keep the possibility of a play off berth open. Huddersfield?s last win was against Les Catalans three weeks ago, but have since lost against Castleford and Bradford.
Leeds have Keith Senior, Danny McGuire, Jamie Peacock, Ali Lauitiiti, Gareth Ellis, and Willie Poching backing up from mid-week test duty, and will also be without forward Chris Feather in their squad owing to wrist injury. Huddersfield have only Robbie Paul backing up and stranger things have happened than a victory against the odds under these circumstances.
Wakefield v St Helens (Sunday)
After losing to Hull and Bradford in recent outings, St Helens need to keep winning to maintain their status alone at the top of the Superleague table. The win last week against Salford will go a long way toward building their confidence for the task that lies ahead. Wakefield are four points clear ahead of Wigan at the bottom of the table, but can?t assume that will be enough space at the moment to save them from relegation. Wakefield scored a handy away win against Warrington recently so can surprise, but last week?s loss against Leeds was a result keeping more to this season?s form.
St Helens have Wellens, Gardener, Talau, Pryce, Long, Cunningham, Gilmour, James Graham and Vinnie Anderson looking to back up from mid-week test duty, and have also lost captain Paul Sculthorpe for two months to a knee injury. Wakefield have David Solomona and Monty Betham looking to back up, but a result here even at home might be a bridge too far for the Wildcats.