Round twenty-three of Super League has arrived as a bit of a damp squib. The places in the top eight are already settled with Widnes Vikings, Salford Red Devils, Hull KR and the Leeds Rhinos moving into the middle eights competition. The top four are already seven points clear of the chasers and now likely just jostling for the remaining home tie in the end of season play-offs.
The Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR are already guaranteed four home games in the play-offs so have nothing at stake in this weeks round games.
The Championship is much more exciting with five sides still trying to squeeze into the remaining three middle eights positions with points difference likely to determine who will have the advantage of four home games.
Saints and Warrington Wolves get the programme underway on Thursday night as the home side look to open up a thirteen point gap over their neighbours and put themselves just one win from guaranteeing a home play-off game with seven games left in which to achieve it. Justin Holbrook makes just one change with Zeb Taia back in the side for the injured Adam Swift while Warrington have Ben Murdoch-Masila, Ben Westwood and Bryson Goodwin back in contention for a place in the seventeen. The bookies are predicting an easy win for the Saints.
Friday nights televised game is the Hull derby with FC the hosts and hoping to banish the memories of a horror Sunday at Wakefield last weekend. Coach Radford has Josh Griffin back in his squad for the first time since May and Sika Manu is available once again after serving a three match suspension. Dean Hadley, Jansin Turgut and Jack Logan drop out of the squad. Danny McGuire, Mose Masoe and James Greenwood are all suspended after incidents last weekend and FC are big favourites with the bookies against a weakened Robins.
Two of the bottom four play at the AJ Bell as the Leeds Rhinos visit Salford Red Devils with the odds in the favour. New signing Jackson Hastings is likely to make his Red Devils debut and Gavin Bennion is named in the squad after returning from a loan period with Rochdale. Leeds have Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Nathan Peteru back in their squad as they look to make it back-to-back win for the first time since April.
Another local derby takes place at the John Smith’s Stadium with the Giants hosting Wakefield Trinity in a match which will decide who finished bottom of the top eight at the end of the regular rounds. The sides are only separated by points difference at the moment, but that difference is a massive 301 points in the favour of Trinity. The only change for Huddersfield is Jake Wardle replacing Jake Mamo in the squad while Trinity also make one change bringing in Joe Arundel for Mason Caton-Brown. Wakefield are tipped for the win by the bookies.
The final game on Friday night is at Wigan where the Catalans Dragons are the visitors. The home side are massive favourites but still without a large proportion of their first choice squad. Coach McNamara has made a large number of changes as he rests squad players ahead of the middle eights and drafts in a number of youngsters. Iain Thornley, Lucas Albert, Antoni Maria, Alrix Da Costa, Lambert Belmas, Ugo Perez and Mickael Goudem all come into the squad to replace David Mead, Rémi Casty, Ben Garcia, Mika Simon, Lewis Tierney, Benjamin Jullien and Josh Drinkwater.
The final game, on Sunday afternoon, is between bottom side Widnes Vikings and Castleford Tigers. Squads haven’t been announced yet but Francis Cummins will be hoping that his side can find some form going into the life or death play offs while his ex-Rhinos team mate Daryl Powell will be expecting a return to form after his side were well beaten by Huddersfield last weekend.
Toulouse, London and Hallifax go into their games over the weekend knowing that wins will guarantee them top eight positions while Featherstone and Leigh are keeping everything crossed that one of them slips up while they get a victory. Toulouse entertain the Dewsbury Rams on Saturday afternoon while London travel to Barrow, and Halifax host Rochdale on Sunday afternoon. The likelihood is that all three will get their required wins but if they don’t and Featherstone can win away in Toronto, or Leigh can beat Sheffield at the Leigh Sports Village, then they could snatch a top four place at the last minute. The remaining Championship fixture sees Batley host Swinton. It should be an exciting and nail-biting couple of days in the Championship.
There is a full weekend of League One fixtures too, as follows (15:00 unless stated);
London Skolars v. Bradford Bulls
Hemel Stags v. West Wales Raiders (14:00)
North Wales Crusaders v. Workington Town (14:30)
Doncaster v. Oldham
Keighley Cougars v. Hunslet
Whitehaven v. Newcastle Thunder
York City Knights v. Coventry Bears
Wherever you watch your rugby this weekend, enjoy.