The Super Eights have arrived and with the Super League Super Eights already looking like a done deal for both the minor premiership and the top four, most interest is in a very competitive Qualifiers competition.
While all of the Super League matches are played on Friday evening, the Qualifiers have spread themselves over four days with one match per day, starting with the Thursday night clash between the Widnes Vikings and London Broncos.
We will take a look at Friday’s Super League games before focussing on the Qualifiers.
Super League Eights
The televised Friday game is between the Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers as second takes on third. Wigan are the bookies favourites to retain their second spot and prolong Saints wait for the minor premiership and after naming Sean Wanes short and long term replacements during the week the outgoing coach names George Williams and Ryan Sutton in his nineteen. Tigers coach Powell has made three changes from his squad from the last regular round game with Joe Wardle, Will Maher and Jake Webster all in the squad.
The Champions elect are at home to the Huddersfield Giants and they are once again unchanged as the ‘injuries jinx’ focusses its attention elsewhere. Saints are big favourites to pick up the two points that will put them just one win away from claiming their first honour of the season. Huddersfield may give a debut to new signing Suaia Matagi while Jake Mamo and Kruise Leeming are also in Simon Woolford’s nineteen. Huddersfield are currently fifth but know that a loss will effectively end their already slender play-off hopes.
The Challenge Cup Finalists meet at the Hallliwell-Jones Stadium as Warrington Wolves host the Catalans Dragons just over three weeks before the two sides run out at Wembley. Wolves coach Price has made a number of changes with Bodene Thompson likely to debut alongside a returning Sitaleki Akauola and Morgan Smith with Cooper, Murdoch-Masila and Ratchford all taking a break. The Dragons will arrive with a second string side as coach McNamara rests a number of players who performed so well against Saints last week. Bousquet, Jullien, Drinkwater, Gigot, Moa and Anderson are all missing from the nineteen and as a result the bookies make the home side strong favourites.
The final Super League game sees Hull FC face Wakefield Trinity in an apparent dead-rubber with neither side much hope of the play-offs. There will be an ‘end of term’ feel to this one and FC coach Radford names Dean Hadley and Chris Green in his squad. Trinity have made just one change with Anthony England replacing Joe Arundel but the bookies face a home victory and for Hull to open up a three point lead in the table over their opponents.
The Thursday night televised game is between the Widnes Vikings and London Broncos as four fascinating fixtures head our way in the Qualifiers. The bookies have made Widnes strong favourites and coach Cummins has made six changes to the side which lost last time out. Charlie Gibb could make his club debut and may be joined by Runciman, Heremaia, Dudson, Houston and Ashall-Bott who are all named in the nineteen man squad. Danny Ward has named an unchanged side from that which hammered Barrow last time out to guarantee the Qualifiers competition and a shot at a return to Super League in 2019.
Hull KR and Salford Red Devils meet for the third time this season with honours having been shared on the two previous meetings. The Bookies fancy a home win but both coaches name their strongest possible squads knowing that a good start to the competition is essential. KR have recalled Joel Tomkins, Shaun Lunt, Danny McGuire, James Greenwood, Will Oakes and Junior Vaivai all named in a nineteen which will be without the suspended Maurice Blair and Mose Masoe. Salford may debut Joey Lussick and welcome back Craig Kopczak and Kris Welham.
Saturday afternoon delivers another televise game as the Leeds Rhinos start their campaign with a home game against Toulouse Olympique XIII. The Rhinos are the biggest favourites of the weekend as they meet Toulouse for only the second time in the two clubs histories. The only previous meeting was a 2005 Challenge Cup semi-final encounter which the Rhinos won 56-18, although there are no players left in either squad who played in the game.
The final Qualifiers game is on Sunday afternoon when Halifax are the hosts to the Toronto Wolfpack. Toronto have taken the points on the two previous 2018 meetings between the two sides, the last time that they played at the New Shay was way back in February when the Wolfpack won by 20-6. The bookies are suggesting an away win but after making the top four in the Championship, against considerable odds, Halifax will be looking to make life uncomfortable for the side from over the pond.
Elsewhere, the following games are being played;
Championship (all Sunday at 15:00)
Barrow Raiders v. Rochdale Hornets
Dewsbury Rams v. Swinton Lions
Featherstone Rovers v. Batley Bulldogs
Leigh Centurions v. Sheffield Eagles
Championship One (all 15:00 unless stated)
West Wales Raiders v. York City Knights
North Wales Crusaders v. Bradford Bulls (14:30)
Doncaster v. London Skolars
Hunslet v. Hemel Stags
Keighl;ey Cougars v. Newcastle Thunder
Oldham v. Whitehaven
Workington Town v. Coventry Bears
Wherever you watch your rugby this weekend, enjoy!