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It?s down to the last four teams standing, and this weekend sees 1 v 2 play for a place in the grand final (loser with a second bite of the cherry) and 4 v 6 play for survival. St Helens, Hull, Bradford, and Warrington ? only three will survive this weekend?s games?
Friday ? St Helens v Hull FC, Knowsley Road 8pm
Competition favourites St Helens and second placed Hull face off after a week?s rest with a grand final place up for grabs. Saints finished the season with twenty-four wins with a points difference of 509, showing their dominance throughout the regular season. Hull managed twenty wins including a mid-season winning streak of thirteen matches, with a points difference of 142.
St Helens has the form on the board, winning their last three league matches and having taken out this year?s Challenge Cup. However captain Paul Sculthorpe has been ruled out for the rest of the season, which may serve as a reminder to the Saints of their injury-laden early departure from the finals a year ago. Coach Daniel Anderson has been talking his side up, as has fullback Paul Wellens, both claiming this is the best side they have been associated with.
Hull meanwhile have lost their last two games, and will be desperate to recapture their mid-season form, which saw them beat St Helens at Knowsley Road in June. Since the mid-season change of coach and the arrival of Peter Sharp it?s been a different Hull side to earlier in the year, albeit one that may have peaked too early and enter the play-offs with a point to prove. Minor injury worries for gareth Carvell and Shayne McMenemy appear to have cleared up.
Some match-ups to look out for are up front, with the Saints engine room rotation of Nathan Cayless, Paul Anderson, and Keiron Cunningham with James Graham, Maurie Fa?asavalu and James Roby up against Hull?s front row mainstays of Garreth Carvell, Ewan Dowes, Paul King and Richard Swain. Meanwhile in the halves Hull?s Richard Horne gets a chance to stake a Tri-Nations claim against test incumbent Sean Long. And there?s talent all over the field really, and this should be a great clash.
Previous results this season:
Round 7: Hull 0 St Helens 46 (KC Stadium)
Round 16: St Helens 26 Hull 27 (Knowsley Road)
St Helens 18-man squad: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilkin, Roby, Bennett, Hooper, P. Anderson, V. Anderson, Graham, Fa'asavalu.
Hull FC 18-man squad: Briscoe, Carvell, Cooke, Domic, Dowes, G. Horne, R. Horne, Lee, McMenemy, King, Radford, Raynor, Swain, Yeaman, Whiting, Tony, Wheeldon, Washbrook.
Referee: A Klein
Saturday ? Bradford v Warrington, Grattan Stadium 6pm
It?s a fight for survival between the Bradford Bulls and Warrington Wolves, each knowing that no team has won Superleague from 4th or 6th position before. But a win here will send either team into the final three with a chance at earning a grand final berth.
Bradford finished the season six points above Warrington, and despite a mid-season two point penalty for previous salary cap indiscretions, the reigning champions? play-off spot had assured for several weeks prior to the end of the league rounds. This was just as well as Bradford lost two games against lower placed teams in the lead-up to the play-offs, but recovered to beat Huddersfield in the final round and then outclass Salford in last week?s elimination game.
Warrington have emerged as a surprise packet at the end of the season, picking up a win against Hull, competing against St Helens, and then reversing their result from a month before by knocking Leeds out of the competition last week with a Lee Briers field goal. Warrington have a good record against the Bulls this season, they are a team that seems to be playing out the 80 minutes and taking nothing for granted, and peaking at the right time of year.
There?s one day remaining before the squads are reduced to 18 men, and time will tell whether Wolves fullback Brent Grose has recovered from knee injury in time to take part in this vital clash, and prop Chris Leikvoll is also available for selection. Bradford expect to have loose forward Jamie Langley available after a groin injury, in addition to recent returnee Paul Johnson. Both sides will give their all in this match, as a loss here spells the end of the road.
Previous results this season:
Round 8: Bradford 18 Warrington 22 (Odsal Stadium)
Round 11: Warrington 27 Bradford 4 (Halliwell Jones Stadium)
Round 23: Bradford 50 Warrington 22 (Grattan Stadium)
Bradford Bulls 20-man squad: Johnson, Burgess, Meyers, Cook, I. Harris, Bai, Pryce, St Hilaire, B. Harris, Langley, Newton, Ferres, Deacon, Vagana, Vainikolo, Hape, McKenna, Withers, Lynch, Henderson.
Warrington Wolves 20-man squad: Grose, Fa?afili, Martin Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Reardon, Briers, Sullivan, Leikvoll, Swann, Wainwright, Mark Gleeson, Westwood, Wood, Barnett, Parker, Rauhihi, Pickersgill, Bracek, Riley, Bridge.
Referee: R Silverwood