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Super League Play Offs Preview

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We have reached the business end of the First Utility Super League season with the play-off series getting underway this week.

Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, awaits the two teams from the best eight in Super League and to be honest it is difficult to call this season.

St Helens have just been crowned Super League Leaders after finishing top of the league ladder after the regular weekly rounds – Some rival supporters have claimed Saints have won it by default because no other team wanted to finish top.

Super League is the only professional sport going that no team really benefits from finishing top. By coming top you do get a home tie in the play-offs but if you win that you then have to choose your own opposition in the semi-final. That is just giving your opponent the best team talk ever “They think we are the weakest team let’s go and prove them wrong”.

The rule is a farce and seeing as St Helens lost their last two games and Castleford failed to win their final game which would have seen the crowned League Leaders have got many supporters questioning whether anyone really wants the win the plate, or hubcap as it is known. Next year will be different because the controversial ‘Club Call’ decision will be axed.

Michael Shenton of Castleford is tackled (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Saints’ position at the top of the Super League ladder at the completion of 27 rounds of the regular season was confirmed when Castleford Tigers, the only club which could mathematically overtake them, were defeated by Catalans Dragons.

That result means Castleford finish fourth and will travel to Langtree Park on Friday night for a mouth-watering qualifying play-off against the newly-crowned League Leaders.

The other qualifying semi-final sees second-placed Wigan Warriors, the defending champions, host third-placed Huddersfield Giants, the 2013 League Leaders, in another 8.00pm kick-off.

Anthony Gelling of Wigan Warriors scores (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
The winners of the two qualifying play-offs will have a bye in Week 2 of the play-offs, when the losing teams will be at home to the winners of the two elimination play-offs.

All four play-offs in Week 1 will be televised live by Sky Sports, whose cameras will be at both The Halliwell Jones Stadium and Headingley Carnegie Stadium on Saturday for a compelling double bill of elimination play-offs.

With defeat meaning season-end for two clubs on Saturday, the stakes are high as the closest First Utility Super League season of all time reaches a dramatic denouement. The do-or-die action kicks off at 2.45pm when fifth-placed Warrington Wolves face Widnes Vikings, who are making their debuts in the play-offs after securing a competition-best  eighth-place finish.

The focus then switches to Headingley at 5.15pm when sixth-placed Leeds Rhinos, the only club ever to win the Grand Final from fifth place, start their campaign to go one better with a home play-off against Catalans Dragons.

Now the play-off fixtures are finalised this writer has been thinking about what will happen and who will go on to play out the Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday, October 10.

Wigan Warriors will be too strong for the Huddersfield Giants with the likes of Sean O’Loughlin, Josh Charnley, Joe Burgess and Matty Smith in fine form, while St Helens will bounce back from recent defeats to take care of the Castleford Tigers. That mean Wigan and St Helens will get a week off and Saints get to pick their opponents in Club Call.

Catalan Dragons are not the best travellers and I think they will struggle to beat Leeds at Headingley – if it was in the South of France I would have tipped the Dragons. Warrington and Widnes is a fierce rivalry and has the makings of a great game but Warrington just get the nod because of their experience in the play-offs.

Jeff Lima of Catalan Dragons gets past Nick Slyney of London Broncos. (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
So Warrington and Leeds will then play Castleford and Huddersfield respectively with the losers being eliminated. Bear it in mind these are just my predictions and quite possibly won’t happen. I think Warrington and Leeds will win their respective matches with St Helens then picking Leeds in Club Call based on the fact they were the lowest placed team left in the play-offs meaning Wigan would now host Warrington.

Both semi-finals, if this was case, would be classic encounters and going on form and experience I predict a Wigan Warriors versus Leeds Rhinos Super League Grand Final.

The full schedule for Week One of the First Utility Super League play-offs is as follows:

Thursday September 18 (all times BST)

Wigan Warriors v Huddersfield Giants (8.00pm)

Friday September 19

St Helens v Castleford Tigers (8.00pm)

Saturday September 20

Warrington Wolves v Widnes Vikings (2.45)

Leeds Rhinos v Catalans Dragons (5.15)

David Cox
David is Crunch Sport's baseball guru. He's a walking, talking almanac when it comes to stats and facts. His elementary school dreams of playing professionally were scuppered by terrible co-ordination, but luckily his writing skills kept him in touch with his beloved sport through high school and beyond.

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