There are just five rounds of Super League remaining before the split into the middle eights, and while it looks almost certain that St Helens will enter the second phase of the season at the top of the pile, there are just six points covering places six to ten meaning that the fight to avoid the dreaded middle eights is well and truly alive.
There is one Super League game on Thursday night, four on Friday night and the remaining game at the Catalans Dragons on Saturday evening.
There are some exciting ties in the Championship too, none more so than the grudge match between Toronto Wolfpack and Leigh Centurions on Saturday night.
The weekends first game is at the DW Stadium where two out of form sides meet as the Wigan Warriors take on the Leeds Rhinos. Wigan have won just two games in their last six while the Rhinos only victory in their most recent six games was the Challenge Cup win over Leigh. The Rhinos are now deep in the middle eights fight and depending on results elsewhere they could find themselves in ninth at the end of the weekend. Wigan are strong favourites and could give a debut to new signing Joe Greenwood. Liam Farrell also returns to the squad which lost by a point to Castleford last week and is joined by Liam Farrell, John Bateman and Sean O’Loughlin. The Rhinos have Brad Singleton and Richie Myler back from injury and Ryan Hall returning from England duty and know that this is a must win game.
Friday nights SKY game is St Helens against Wakefield Trinity as both sides have very different reasons for needing victory. A St Helens win would see them a stop closer to entering the eights in top spot but if Trinity can get the points then they are within a couple of points of guaranteeing the top eights for themselves. Saints are unchanged as they continue to benefit from a settled squad and a minimal injury list. Wakefield are the clear underdogs but coach Chris Chester had been forced into a single change as Liam Finn replaces the injured Danny Kirmond.
In the second 19:45 Friday kick off Warrington Wolves host a Salford Red Devils side who could get within a point of the top eight if they can upset the bookies and snatch a win. Wolves coach Steve Price has taken the opportunity to rest Stefan Ratchford and Chris Hill as they return from the Denver test and he is also without Ryan Atkins and Harvey Livett through injury. Brothers George and Toby King, along with Morgan Smith and Ben Pomeroy are named as the replacements. The Devils have Mark Flanagan and Lee Mossop back in contention with loanees Greg Burke and Ed Chamberlain retaining their position in the side.
Both Hull sides are at home with 20:00 kick offs. FC host a Widnes Vikings side who know that a sixteenth loss of the season will finally condemn them to the middle eights, and increase their likelihood of finishing at the bottom of the pile. FC make a number of changes with Sika Manu and Dean Hadley joining Jamie Shaul in the named squad. England stars, Jake Connor and Scott Taylor, are also named in the squad despite the former picking up a shoulder knock in the game in Denver. The home side are massive favourites for the win.
On the other side of the city KR will be hoping to take the scalp of the Huddersfield Giants and narrow the gap on a top eight which looks increasingly unlikely for the Robins. The home side will be bolstered by the return of Danny McGuire, Robbie Mulhern and Tommy Lee to the squad although McGuire will have to pass a fitness test after suffering a blood clot. Matty Marsh, Elliot Wallis and Aaron Smith miss out. The Giants make just one change to the squad that beat the Dragons last time out with Sam Hewitt replacing Dale Ferguson. The bookies have the Giants as slight favourites for the win which would effectively end KR’s hopes of avoiding the middle eights.
There is a massive game in Perpignan on Saturday afternoon as the Catalans Dragons face Castleford Tigers. There is little between an on-form Dragons and an inconsistent Tigers with the bookies, the visitors slight favourites for the win. At the time of writing neither side had named their squads for the game.
The game of the weekend in the Championship takes place on Saturday evening when the Leigh Centurions will throw everything that they have at the Toronto Wolfpack to try and get themselves into the top four. A win for the home side will put them within two points of ensuring that they go into the middle eights at the top of the table, with four games left to get them in.
The remainder of games take place on Sunday afternoon With Halifax at Barrow, London at Batley, Rochdale at Featherstone, Toulouse visiting Sheffield and Swinton hosting the Dewsbury Rams.
Championship One fixtures are as follows (15:00 unless stated);
Coventry Bears v. Bradford Bulls
West Wales Raiders v. London Skolars
Hemel Stags v. Doncaster (14:30)
North Wales Crusaders v. Hunslet (14:30)
Oldham v. Workington Town
Whitehaven v. Keighley Cougars
York City Knights v. Newcastle Thunder
Wherever you watch your rugby this weekend, enjoy!