Superleague Preview Play-Offs Wk 1

AND then there were six? welcome to the business end of the season. This weekend sees the opening clashes in the Superleague play-offs with four teams facing the prospect of elimination, while the two highest ranked teams (St Helens and Hull) have earned themselves a weekend of rest. The top six will soon become the final four ? game on!Friday: Leeds Rhinos v Warrington Wolves8pm at Headingley Stadium Third place v sixth place, loser eliminatedThis is the first season since 2002 where Leeds has not finished in the top two on the competition ladder. However they will take hope from the feats of Bradford last season, who from third position ended up Champions. By comparison the Leeds squad looks a little weaker in some places than in previous years, and they enter the finals with injured first choice fullback Richard Mathers, and regular bench forward Willie Poching.Warrington made it through to the second week last season with the talents of Andrew Johns at their disposal, and will be looking to match that achievement with the current squad. Ten of their 20-man squad played alongside Joey in last season?s play-offs, but they too start their finals campaign without injured first choice fullback Brett Grose, hooker or loose forward Jon Clarke and prop Mark Hilton.This should be a fast-paced game owing to the creativity of both sides, but with some good forward clashes as well. Keep an eye out for Dream Team second rower Leeds? Gareth Ellis, but the match-up that may well decide the result is in the halves where Dream Team five-eighth Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow square off against Salford?s Chris Bridge and Lee Briers. Lee Briers has had a mid-week meeting with Great Britain coach Brian Noble, and will be desperate to use this last chance to try and force his way onto the Tri-Nations tour. Leeds Rhinos 20-man squad: Donald, Walker, Senior, Smith, McGuire, Burrow, Bailey, Diskin, Peacock, Lauitiiti, Ellis, Sinfield, Millard, Jones-Buchanan, Scruton, Kirke, Williams, Tansey, Thackray, Toopi. Coach: Tony Smith (Aus).Warrington Wolves 20-man squad: Fa'afili, Mn. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Reardon, Briers, Sullivan, Leikvoll, Swann, Wainwright, Mk. Gleeson, Westwood, Wood, Barnett, Parker, Rauhihi, Pickersgill, Riley, Bridge, Harrison, Penny. Coach: Paul Cullen.Referee: R SilverwoodLeeds last five games: LWWLWWarrington last five games: LWLWLRound 26: Leeds 54 Warrington 16 at HeadingleyRound 12: Warrington 44 Leeds 16 at Halliwell JonesBart?s tip: Leeds by 12.Saturday: Bradford Bulls v Salford City Reds6pm at Grattan StadiumFourth place v fifth place, loser eliminatedThe reigning Champions won their way through from sudden death last season, so that prospect alone won?t be causing too much concern in the Bulls camp. And at least their topsy-turvy patches of form during the season may have been put right with a confident win last start under pressure against Huddersfield. The Bulls look to be at full strength for their finals campaign with no major injury problems.Salford by contrast are competing in their first ever Superleague play-off, and have achieved a long held ambition under coach Karl Harrison to make the top six. However the Reds won?t want to let things stop there, and having contested a tight match at home against Bradford in June will fancy themselves every chance of winning here. The only regular players missing from the squad for the start of the finals are the injured second rower Ian Sibbit and centre Junior Langi.The hard-working Salford side are likely to look to restrict the creative opportunities of Bradford, and in a close game are more than capable of getting a roll on their opposition. Bradford will be likely to try and dominate the ruck area and then quicken the pace of the game and the score line in their favour. Some key match ups will be hookers Terry Newton and Ian Henderson up against Salford?s Malcolm Auker, Bradford halves Iestyn Harris and Paul Deacon battling with Andrew Dunemann and Luke Robinson, and keep an eye out for danger man and Dream Team winger Salford?s David Hodgson. 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. Coach: Steve MacNamara.Salford City Reds 20-man squad: Fitzpatrick, Hodgson, McGuinness, Moule, Dunemann, Robinson, Coley, Alker, Rutgerson, Finnigan, Charles, Highton, Wilshere, Haggerty, Littler, Brocklehurst, Adamson, Lima, Williams, Turner. Coach: Karl Harrison.Referee: A KleinBradford last five games: LWLLWSalford last five games: WLLWLRound 19: Salford 17 Bradford 16 at The WillowsRound 3: Bradford 34 Salford 4 at Odsal (Grattan) StadiumBart?s tip: Bradford by 8.Broadcast detailsBoth games shown live in the UK on Sky Sports 3. Both games shown live in NZ on Sky Sport 2 (Sat 6:50 am) and Sky Sport 1 (Sun 4:50 am).Both games shown delayed in Australia on Friday 29 September (TBC) on Fox Sports.Leeds v Warrington covered live through BBC Radio Leeds: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/leeds.shtml

Community helps out following fraud

LEAGUE COMMUNITY LENDS HANDTHE RUGBY league community continues to come to the aid of families in Queensland?s northwest, disadvantaged this week by an apparent fraud case.In the latest development QRL sponsors Wizard Home Loans have combined with regional airline Macair to ensure the safe return of teenage NRL hopeful Winston Dale Amini to his family home on remote Mornington Island.Winston and his father John had travelled to Mount Isa from their base in the Gulf of Carpentaria last Friday, preparing to trial with the Newcastle Knights.On Monday they discovered the flights and opportunity for which they had paid a ?talent scout?, had not been booked.Since then Winston and John have been stranded in Mount Isa until the point today when they no longer had funds available to cover their costs.Wizard Home Loans have come to the party, covering the Aminis? accommodation for the last three days and allowing them to return home with a few extra dollars.Further to this, Macair generously contacted the QRL on Wednesday evening and indicated they would fly the Aminis free of charge to Mornington Island. They are scheduled to depart Mount Isa on Friday morning.Winston and John are believed to be the last of the individuals stuck in Mount Isa.The generosity of the league community has not been restricted to Queensland. Troy Mara of Cloncurry, has received exceptional hospitality since being stranded alone at Sydney Airport on Monday evening.The Wests Tigers have housed Troy all week and in coming days he will receive trials with both the Sydney Roosters and Bulldogs.NRL Welfare Officer Matt Parish has personally accompanied Troy and has organised for him to attend both NRL finals this weekend and tonight?s filming of The Footy Show.All other boys will receive their opportunity to trial in Sydney in January, when there is an opportunity for them to have an extended stay and receive a more beneficial experience. All NRL clubs in Sydney have agreed to assist with the exercise.The January trials will be organised in partnership with the NRL, ARL and the National Aboriginal Sports Corporation of Australia.In addition to those organisations listed above, thanks are also due to Queensland Police, Member for Mount Isa Betty Kiernan, QRL Northern Division Manager Bob Newsome, Waltons? Motor Court of Mount Isa and Pacific Sports Management.

Carting it up with Stevo

SUNDAY too far away

Bulldogs and Broncos news

BULLDOGS prop Roy Asotasi has passed his final fitness test and is a certain starter for tomorrow night's preliminary final against Brisbane at Aussie Stadium.

Gasnier & Asotasi

ST George Illawarra centre Mark Gasnier will test his abdominal injury for the first time today as he chases a return for the Dragons preliminary final against Melbourne on Saturday.

Tigers give up on League reprieve

AFTER discussions with the RFL, following the Club?s relegation at the weekend, the Tigers have accepted that there will be no reprieve on the basis of Super League expanding to 13 or 14 teams and have agreed to the RFL?s request to accept the current process.The Tigers would like to thank the many Super League clubs that have offered to support the Club's request for a review of the current rules of promotion and relegation. In addition, the Club thanks those clubs that have given their commitment to allow the Tigers to continue to progress the development of the Club?s leading junior players. The Club is appreciative of the wide-reaching and genuine support received and would like to believe that such support is a reflection of the respect for the Tigers from within the Game and the concerns surrounding the current promotion and relegation rules.Everyone acknowledged that the challenge facing the promoted club is incredibly tough. The Club believes that this season it has proved this challenge to be too tough. No other sport lays down such an insurmountable challenge.Only 3 of last year?s National League 1 Grand Final winning team, Andrew Henderson, Michael Platt and Michael Shenton, were in the Tigers? starting line-up against Wakefield. Only 10 of the 17 players selected at Wakefield made it to the Club's pre-season camp in Tenerife, 4 weeks before the Club's opening game against Hull. This limited preparation was the unsatisfactory and unfair foundation for the Tigers entering the most competitive Super League ever. A competition in which one team had exemption from relegation despite having 12 months longer than the Tigers to prepare - although the Tigers? would like to go on record as fully supporting the ?advantages? offered to the Catalan Dragons.The dice are impossibly stacked. The Tigers had, and continue to maintain, a solid financial base. The Club averaged well over 5,000 per game in the National League and attracted the 7th highest average in Super League in 2006. Even with this degree of stability (shaken to its core by a season in National League), the commercial platform of our fan base, an excellent coach and the likes of Nutley, Manu, McGoldrick and Sculthorpe the Club failed. 19 points, but failure. In short, the Club believes that the Game?s promotion and relegation rules are flawed, a view clearly held by the Game at large as evidenced by the introduction of the franchise system in 2009.In conclusion, the Tigers would like to thank, in particular, those Super League clubs that were prepared to accept reduced revenue distributions for the greater good of the Game and also thanks the wider rugby league community for their overwhelming support in fighting for a change in the rules. The Tigers thanks its coach and its playing squad for the marvellous efforts of 2006. Most of all, the Tigers thanks the fans; our Super League journey has been temporarily suspended. We will be back.Source: www.castigers.com

Sione signs for Quins

NEW Zealand international Sione Faumuina has joined Harlequins RL from New Zealand Warriors on a three-year deal.

Nutley leaving with heavy heart

CASTLEFORD Tigers captain Danny Nutley will return home to Sydney next month with mixed emotions after failing to keep his side in engage Super League.

Superleague signings round-up

SIGNING news from Superleague over the past week or so, with six clubs having finished their commitments for the season...

Around the Grounds and Referee's Report

THE Bulldogs have been boosted just a few days ahead of their Grand Final qualifier against Brisbane with Kiwi international Roy Asotasi passed fit to play along with Reni Maitua. Asotasi injured his knee against the Broncos back in round 24 and at first analysis was ruled out until the Grand Final, but will play off the bench against Brisbane. Maitua also injured his knee but against the Panthers in round 26 and missed the side?s Qualifying Final victory over the Canberra Raiders. These two are the side?s only two changes while the team will have to overcome poor recent form against the Broncos with two losses this season to them 25-6 at Suncorp Stadium and 30-0 back in Sydney.

Lolesi off to UK

WESTS Tigers have released utility Jamaal Lolesi from his contract, allowing the former Bulldog to join Huddersfield in the English Super League.

Sharks board to call special meeting

CRONULLA will consider calling a special board of directors meeting after the Mercury Grou presented chief executive Greg Pierce with its performance review.

Kennedy & RLPA, King injury

THE Rugby League Players Association says all players are eligible for its end of season awards regardless of their membership status.

The NRL's 'no Sunday' finals folly

WHEN the NRL CEO, David Gallop, tires of the politics of rugby league, he should follow his deputy, Graeme Annesley, into real politics. He will take to it like a duck to water given his capacity to explain the unexplainable.His latest explanation in response to anger from fans over the abandoning of Sunday afternoon finals matches (not to mention the grand final) would do Howard and Beazley proud.Last year, matches on the second and third weekends of the finals were held on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. This year they are on Friday night and Saturday night. Because that's how Channel Nine wanted it.David Gallop?s justification for the no Sunday afternoon finals is that the NRL believes it is fair to keep the two matches as close as possible, so one winning team does not get an undue advantage with a longer lead-up time to the grand final. Hmm, so which is closer: a Friday night and a Saturday night final, or a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon final?Sunday matches have been a key part of the NRL for decades, yet you get the impression that the Eels' irrepressible CEO, Dennis Fitzgerald, might be close to the mark when he calls for the end of Sunday afternoon football full stop.Why? It?s all driven by television, or, more particularly by Channel Nine. The wishes of fans have been ignored, but that has never bothered Nine in the past.The switch from Sunday afternoon to Friday night finals is a happy coincidence (really?) with Nine?s decision to televise one match of each round live next year on a Friday night, to be followed by a second Friday night match on replay.So it is hardly surprising the second and third weekends of the finals this year feature Friday night live matches.Following a campaign by sections of the media, notably the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the NRL has promised to revisit the question of Sunday afternoon finals in the off season. If you expect there to be a change then you are more of an optimist than I am!Meanwhile this Friday night is going to be an interesting ratings battle in Sydney ? and to a lesser extent in Brisbane. The Bulldogs v Broncos game will be live on Nine, and the Swans v Fremantle game live on Ten.And wonders never cease ? on Saturday night, Nine in Melbourne will be showing the Melbourne Storm v St George-Illawarra Dragons live!

Matai Added To Kiwis Train On Squad

MANLY centre Steve Matai is the latest player to be added to the New Zealand Rugby League train-on squad.

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