The Super League Play-Offs get underway tomorrow night after 27 rounds of tough and challenging Rugby League; only for another 4 weeks of gruelling competition to see who will be crowned Champions at Old Trafford on 5th October. Here is a breakdown through the first four Play-Off matches.
Huddersfield Giants vs Wigan Warriors
Huddersfield won their first League Leaders Shield in 81 years following a fine season under Paul Anderson whilst their opponents Wigan also have silverware after winning the Tetley’s Challenge Cup at Wembley last month. The Giants beat the Warriors in both regular season matches, including a 22-10 win at the John Smiths Stadium. Danny Brough, who was selected in the Dream Team and a contender for Man of Steel, will be key for the Giants and a player that could create problems for the Wigan backline. Huddersfield have the form going into this match winning four of their last five, however they lost to Bradford Bulls last time out, but they rested key players ahead of this match.
Wigan are out of form in recent weeks losing four of their last five, against teams who are all in the Play-Offs, which begs the question if they can rekindle their early season form, which meant they topped the table in early weeks. Out of the 17 victories for the Warriors, nine of them came away from home suggesting they are a dangerous prospect for the Giants. Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley are going to be crucial for the Warriors, who will look to be offensive and these two are dangerous going forward, whilst strong defensively.
A Huddersfield win would give them a bye through to the third week of the Play-Offs and give them the opportunity to pick who they play through the ClubCall system. In the last ten years, only five teams who have topped the table have gone onto win the Grand Final. A Wigan victory would also give them a bye into the third week of Play-Off matches, but they would be unable to pick their opposition, as they finished fourth in the regular season.
Hull FC vs Catalan Dragons
A mixed season for Hull, who reached the Challenge Cup Final, but it meant mid-season form was hampered as they failed to win a match during June and July. A home tie is favourable for the ‘Black and Whites’ because they have won 8 from 13 at the KC Stadium. Peter Gentle will be hoping Gareth Ellis is fit after he missed the defeat against St Helens last time out, his experience will be required if Hull look to get through the rounds. Danny Tickle’s kicking will be key for Hull, who will look to pressurise the French visitors and keep them penned in their own half.
Catalan Dragons lost their final match against Warrington Wolves which meant they faced an away match in Round One of the Play-Offs. They will travel to Hull, but they don’t travel particularly well winning only four away games, but they also drew twice away from Stade Gilbert Brutus. The Dragons have experience in the Play-Offs after reaching the Semi-Finals back in 2009, causing an upset along the way. Steven Menzies will be looking for one last hurrah after announcing he will retire at the end of the season, after a successful career in the Southern Hemisphere.
Both teams know that defeat will mean elimination. Hull will have to tidy up their sloppy performances and cut out their poor errors from recent weeks to stand a chance of advancing. Catalan will travel to the KC Stadium looking to reverse the 28-8 scoreline they were on the receiving end of on their last visit.
Warrington Wolves vs Leeds Rhinos
Warrington finished a point behind Huddersfield in the regular season and have shown improvement from last season, along with having the experience of Play-Off misery. Lee Briers will be looking to avenge Leeds for their defeat at Old Trafford last term and will play the key role in dismantling the Leeds defence with his kicking ability, whilst Joel Monaghan is dangerous attacking down the wing claiming catches from the Briers kicks; Monaghan has scored 81 tries in 85 appearances for the club.
Leeds come alive at this time of the year and have won the last two Grand Finals after finishing fifth. However this season they finished in third place, four points behind Warrington. Brian McDermott will have a fully fit squad to utilise, with many having the experience of winning at Old Trafford. Arguably this season’s Man of Steel is Jamie Peacock who is proving age is just a number after providing some solid performances throughout the season. Lots of the Leeds players would worry any opponents with the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow in the side that will look to make it a hat-trick of Grand Final victories.
On paper this looks like the tastiest clash in the First Round of Play-Off matches. A repeat of last years Grand Final in which Leeds triumphed 28-22. In the regular season Warrington beat Leeds at the Halliwell Jones Stadium by the narrowest of margins (19-18).
St Helens vs Hull KR
Nathan Brown’s men finished in fifth place, which has been lucky in recent seasons. A slow start to the season with mixed form, with surprises losses whilst victories away to both Warrington and Leeds, suggesting they can still beat the best. James Roby is a welcome return to the squad, following an ankle injury, and the hooker will look to impress with the World Cup around the corner. One club man and current captain Paul Wellens will be looking for a successful end to the season.
The lowest placed league finishers were Hull KR and will have the underdog tag following them around, perhaps unfairly. A squad which struggled to cope with injuries cost them form in the closing round of fixtures. Michael Dobson was rested for the London Broncos defeat following a recent injury and the half-back with threaten the St Helens team. Craig Sandercock will be hoping that many of his players can repeat the performance they put in against St Helens earlier in the season.
Hull KR have the advantage after winning both regular season matches, yet St Helens will start as favourites. Both sets of players will be looking to put in performances that could also get them a place in their national side ahead of the World Cup. This is another Elimination Play-Off, so it will be the final game for one of these two sides.