Five rounds to go in Superleague, and big news mid-week over here is that Wigan have been deducted two competition points for a 2005 salary cap breach. Bradford?s hearing is yet to be scheduled but it is expected the league will seek a similar penalty in return for their alleged breach, while Hull, St Helens and Castleford have faced fines. Interesting times, and six interesting matches this weekend. Game on!
Friday: Leeds v Wigan at Headingley Stadium ? televised More than any other game this will tell us what is in store in the battle for relegation, as through their penalty Wigan have rejoined the bottom of the table. It remains to see how the team will respond to that set-back that comes from a time when many of them including the coach were not with the club. Will it inspire them to dig deeper, or will it be an added distraction against a Leeds team that is looking to regain form after losing second spot to Hull last week? No Danny McGuire or Chris Feather for the Rhinos, while Pat Richards and David Vaealiki look to retain their places in the Wigan line-up following last week?s big win over Catalans.
Friday: Salford v Warrington at The Willows It?s a battle for fifth spot over Manchester way, as Salford and Warrington have the chance to move two points above their immediate rivals. Both sides should be fired up for this game, as the winner should go a long way to wrapping up their play-off spot. Ian Sibbit out through injury for the Reds, but they look to add Simon Finnigan and Andrew Brocklehurst to the squad following the big win over Harlequins last week. New England coach Paul Cullen has some injury headaches at the Wolves, with Rob Parker, Steve Pickersgill, Jon Clarke and Simon Grix all out of contention.
Saturday: Harlequins v Bradford at Twickenham Stoop Bradford chalked up 50 points over Warrington last week and will look to do the same over a Harlequins side that went down by 34 to Salford last week. But continued speculation over Bradford?s fate with regards to the alleged salary cap breach may have an on-field effect for the Bulls, and the equal 8th placed Harlequins will be looking to take their chances. Paul Sykes is a possible inclusion for the London side after a five month lay-off, but they will be without Thomas Leuluai. Paul Johnson makes his return to the Bradford squad for this game.
Sunday: Castleford v St Helens at The Jungle An under strength Castleford side is expected to struggle against the league leaders, with Saints showing good form to put 56 points on last week against their Challenge Cup Rivals Huddersfield. The Tigers are in equal 8th place, but will be short in the halves without injured Peter Lupton, Luke Dyer, Ben Roarty and suspended Danny Brough. Castleford are dipping into their Academy depth and could give up to three juniors their Superleague debut in this game. St Helens look to be at full strength and a win here would keep them six points clear of their nearest rival on the table.
Sunday: Huddersfield v Hull at Galpharm Stadium Seventh-placed Huddersfield hope to stay in touch with the chance of a play-off spot as well as make a recovery from last week?s beating at the hands of St Helens. They face a tough task here in a Hull team fresh from claiming second spot from Leeds last week, and with their eyes on staying there in the lead-up to the play-offs. The Giants will hope that Chris Thorman?s contract extension and call-up to the Great Britain training squad will spread inspiration through the team, but they can still be expected to stay four points behind sixth place regardless of the result. So will their eyes be on their chance at Cup glory in a fortnight?s time, or will they make Peter Sharp?s Hull side really earn a victory here?
Sunday: Wakefield v Catalans at Atlantic Solutions Stadium ? televised The other game that will shed light on the battle for relegation this week has Wakefield Trinity taking on Les Catalans. Both teams share last place with Wigan, but the French expansion team is immune from relegation. Wakefield really need to make sure of this one, as they won?t be given a better opportunity to possibly move two points ahead of Wigan, depending on the Warrior?s Friday night result. However Wakefield will be without captain Monty Betham and Ned Catic, both suspended as a result of last week?s win over Castleford. Catalans are more than capable of the win against a team of similar standard, but only if they bring their best game with them on the plane.
Competition Table after 23 rounds St Helens 40 Hull 34 Leeds 32 Bradford 30* Salford 22 Warrington 22 - - - - - Huddersfield 18 Harlequins 17 Castleford 17 Wigan 14** Wakefield 14 Catalans 14
* Face hearing and possible penalty over alleged 2005 salary cap breach ** Deducted two points over 2005 salary cap breachLike