It’s a weekend of near meaningless games in the Super League Super Eights with the top four places settled and the play-offs already scheduled as St Helens v. Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors v. Castleford Tigers, the games being played on the 4th and 5th of October.
Instead we will focus on a fascinating final round in the Super League Qualifiers, where six teams are still in contention for the three automatic places and the dreaded Million Pound Game which will determine who joins them when it is played on Sunday 7th October.
The excitement gets underway on Thursday night when Salford Red Devils can almost guarantee their Super League survival by beating Toulouse Olympique XIII at the AJ Bell Stadium in a televised game on SKY. Any win for Salford would put them on ten league points and with an almost unsurmountable points difference. A loss would mean an anxious wait with an outside chance that they could drop into the Million Pound Game, or even sixth spot. Red Devils coach Watson has made four changes to his squad with Jackson Hasting returning after a two match suspension along with George Griffin, Daniel Murray and Logan Tomkins.
Toulouse could leapfrog Salford into second place with a, however unlikely, win by more than fifty-five points, but a win by just nine could see them into third and a nail-biting few days hoping other results go their way. A loss for Toulouse would see them as the most likely to miss out on the Million Pound Game unless London lose, or win by less than five points against bottom side Halifax. Toulouse are the underdogs with the bookies expecting Salford to end the night comfortably sitting in an automatic promotion position.
Friday evening heralds the first ever meeting between the Leeds Rhinos and Toronto Wolfpack with the home side the favourites to guarantee their safety with a win which could push Toronto into the Million pound game, or if Toulouse win on Thursday night, into sixth spot at the end of the weekend.
The Rhinos have lost the services of Jack Walker after a head clash last weekend and he will be replaced by Ashton Golding. Brad Singleton starts a two match suspension but Brett Ferres returns from his one game suspension and into the squad. A win for the Rhinos would make them the first side from the Qualifiers to be guaranteed a Super League place in 2019, but a big loss (more than 32 points) could see them finish as low as fourth spot and be forced into the Million Pound Game. If Salford win on Thursday then a Toronto win may not be enough for automatic promotion, depending on Hull KR’s result, but if Salford lose then a win for the Wolfpack would guarantee that they get promoted.
London play Halifax on Saturday evening (19:05) knowing that they will need to win by the largest possible margin to help their position, although if Toulouse have been beaten by Salford on Thursday then a small loss may still be enough. If Toulouse have been beaten then points difference will likely put the Broncos into the Million Pound Game, but depending on other results they could finish in an automatic promotion position. If Toulouse win, then London will need other results to go in their favour to make the play-off game, most likely as the away team.
The final game of the weekend is on Sunday afternoon when Hull KR are at home to relegated Widnes Vikings. While Widnes could spoil the KR party with a finalflourish, KR are the favourites for the win. If either Salford of Toronto lose then a KR win will guarantee them a top three place. Even if Toronto win, KR will already know how many points that they need to win by to overtake them (or the Leeds Rhinos) and get an automatic promotion spot. By the time that KR take the field the calculations will have been done and they will have the advantage of a clear objective to guarantee promotion or the Million Pound Game, but they will also have the nervousness of knowing that a loss could see them drop out of the top flight and into the Championship.
It would be a brave man who predicts the outcome of the next four days of Rugby as the Qualifiers resolve themselves to the joy and disappointment of players, boards and fans. Some whose hearts are currently filled with hope will be crushed while those with doubt may find elation. It should be absolutely fascinating.
The Super League Super Eights fixtures are as follows;
Friday (all 19:45)
St Helens v. Castleford Tigers
Wakefield Trinity v. Warrington Wolves
Wigan Warriors v. Hull FC
Catalans Dragons v. Huddersfield Giants
There is a full programme of final matches in the Championship Shield on Sunday (all 15:00) with:
Batley Bulldogs v. Swinton Lions
Dewsbury Rams v. Leigh Centurions
Featherstone Rovers v. Barrow Raiders
Sheffield Eagles v. Rochdale Hornets
There are two play-off games in League One, both being played on Sunday afternoon with 15:00 kick-off times as Bradford Bulls host Oldham and Doncaster take on Workington Town for places in the promotion play-off final.
Wherever you watch your rugby league this weekend, enjoy!