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This weekend sees the final round of Superleague XI, and two pressing issues remain unsettled ? the order of fifth and sixth place for Salford and Warrington will determine first week play-off opponents, and of course the result of Wakefield v Castleford will determine which team is subject to relegation. Other teams will be hoping for either a good hit-out ahead of the important play-off games to follow, or for a positive end to a long season. Game on!
Friday ? Wigan v Hull at JJB Stadium (televised)
With Wigan successfully clear of the relegation tussle, home fans will be looking for a win against second placed Hull to give them some positives to take into the off-season. This will be the last game in Wigan colours for halfback Michael Dobson, Brett Dallas, Scott Logan and Wayne Godwin who are all joining other clubs next season, while the club will also acknowledge recently retired Kris Radlinski. Wigan lost against Harlequins last week by a point while Hull lost to Warrington and will be hoping to return to form before the play-offs. Hull are not resting any players from the squad, knowing that they have earned a week off and will play their next game in the Qualifying Semi-Final against St Helens.
Tip: Could easily go either way? maybe Wigan?
Friday ? Leeds v Catalans at Headingley
Third placed Leeds host last placed Catalans as the French club aim to finish their debut season on a high note. The team has won eight games and mirrored the performance of many teams having previously made their first step into the elite division. However their Superleague future is secure only because of the exemption from relegation granted to them as an expansion club. Dragons winger Justin Murphy currently heads the try scoring table on 24 and will be hoping to add to his tally here. Catalans were beaten at home by Huddersfield last start, while Leeds were outclassed by competition leaders St Helens. Hoping to hit some form ahead of next week?s Elimination Play-Off against either Warrington or Salford, Leeds are without injured centre Chev Walker, with Danny McGuire again listed to make his comeback from shin injury.
Saturday ? Harlequins v Salford at Twickenham Stoop
Salford can make certain of fifth place and an Elimination Play-Off against Bradford next week with a win here in London. A loss opens up the chance that they might face Leeds next week instead. Either way it is the first time Salford have qualified for the Superleague Play-Offs, with their win last week over Castleford. Andy Coley, David Hodgson and Stuart Littler were the winners at the Salford awards night mid-week. Meanwhile Harlequins, fresh off their one point win over Wigan, take the field this week in the wake of the news that their CEO since 2002 Nic Cartwright is calling it a day, and prop Danny Williams is also retiring. Luke Dorn is Salford-bound next year, and with eight players yet to be re-signed a surprise win could be in the works here if the players want to impress and pitch in to send each other off in style.
Tip: Could easily go either way, but you?d think Salford...
Saturday ? Wakefield v Castleford at Atlantic Solutions Stadium (televised)
This game is the focus of this weekend?s round and the result could influence the future of both clubs. Castleford have been there before, losing at home against Wakefield in 2004?s final round to end up relegated to National League One. Meanwhile Wakefield won National League One and promotion in 1998 and have been playing Superleague ever since. Under ex-Hull coach John Kear, Wakefield?s recent performances have improved as their quest to avoid the drop intensifies, and following last week?s surprise win over Bradford it all now comes down to this game. Castleford had a patch of strong form around July, but have recently have slid back down to danger culminating in last week?s loss to Salford. The past two years of effort by the Tigers to climb back and survive in Superleague now comes down to this one game ? will that motivation be enough? May the best team on the day win?
Tip: Um, Wakefield?
Sunday ? Warrington v St Helens at Halliwell Jones Stadium
By game time on Sunday Warrington will know whether their opponent in next week?s Elimination Play-Off has already been decided, or whether they can influence their post-season path. The Wolves have made the Play-Offs for the third time in four seasons, and having beaten second place Hull last week will be trying for the quinella by knocking off the leaders. They come up against a St Helens squad that has taken all before them this season, winning the Challenge Cup and topping the League ladder to earn next week off. The Saints will be looking to again display their dominance for all to see as we near the important stage of the season.
Tip: St Helens.
Sunday ? Huddersfield v Bradford at Galpharm Stadium
Seventh placed Huddersfield are now safe from relegation following last week?s win over Catalans, but the Challenge Cup Finalists will be hoping to finish the season on a positive note with a final win at home, given that they cannot make the play-offs. Huddersfield will farewell Michael De Vere, Paul March, Jim Gannon, Wayne McDonald and Jon Grayshon, however the Giants are yet to win over fourth placed Bradford in Superleague. The Bulls will be looking to put in a performance worthy of reigning Champions following last week?s defeat at the hands of Wakefield, and Great Britain rep Paul Johnson returns to the squad for the first time since May.
Tip: Maybe Bradford.
Next week?s games:
Friday 22 September 8pm - Elimination Play-Off 1
Leeds Rhinos v Warrington or Salford at Headingley
(Third Place v Sixth Place)
Saturday 23 September 6pm - Elimination Play Off 2
Bradford Bulls v Salford or Warrington at Grattan Stadium
(Fourth Place v Fifth Place)
(St Helens and Hull FC continue through to the second week.)