The penultimate weekend of the 2018 domestic season will determine the Super League Grand Finalists, which side will join Salford, Leeds and Hull KR from the Qualifiers in the top flight next season, who wins the Championship Shield and which Championship One side will be playing in the Championship in 2019.
There are play-off semi-finals on Thursday and Friday evenings with the Million Pound game, the Shield final, and the Championship One play-off final on Sunday afternoon and evening.
First up is the play-off between the minor premiers, St Helens, and the hopefuls from fourth place, Warrington Wolves. The home side, who have been consistently outstanding all season, are the big favourites with the bookies and odds on favourites to progress to Old Trafford. Coach Holbrook has strengthened his side by bringing back Jonny Lomax, Jon Wilkin and Luke Thompson with Costello, Bentley and Spedding all stepping aside. Saints have won all three meetings between the two sides, most recently by 34-14 a fortnight ago. Warrington coach Steve Price also makes three changes to his side to face the Saints with Tom Lineham returning from suspension and Kevin Brown and Tyrone Roberts fit again to partner in the halves as they return from injury. Robert Hicks takes control with the game kicking off at 19:45 on Thursday.
Friday nights second play-off between the Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers promises to be a closer affair but the bookies still favour the home side getting the win for a classic Saints v. Warriors Grand Final on the 13th October. Wigan have won two out of three encounters so far this season but in the last two meetings there have only been a total of three points between them. Shaun Wane’s side is bolstered by the return of skipper Sean O’Loughlin and play-maker Tommy Leuluai as the Warriors look to sweep away the challenge of last season’s losing Grand Finalists. The Tigers make five changes to the squad which was embarrassed at Saints last weekend with Michael Shenton, Greg Eden Mike McMeeken, Oliver Holmes and Matt Cook all returning. The Tigers should be well supported with over four thousand expected to make the journey. Ben Thaler will be on the whistle for Shaun Wanes last home game as coach.
Featherstone Rovers, and the embattled Leigh Centurions, meet on Sunday afternoon in the Championship Shield. Both clubs have been granted dispensation to sign new players ahead of the game due to player departures and injuries. These had meant that Leigh fielded a sub-seventeen squad last weekend. Leigh have signed a total of seventeen players from Wigan, Saints and Castleford ahead of the game, all players under nineteen year of age. After losses to Dewsbury and Batley in the last two weekends it is the visitors who are the underdogs as they travel to Post Office Road for the end of season final.
Bradford Bulls and Workington Town also kick off at 15:00 on Sunday afternoon for the privilege of joining the York City Knights in the Championship in 2019. The Bulls finished the league season twelve points ahead of Town in the regular season but will be very wary of their opponents who upset the odds by beating Doncaster in the semi-final last weekend. Workington have won both league encounters in 2018 with a 17-16 win in round six and a 24-18 victory in round twenty-two on the 19th August. Home advantage is likely to count and a good crowd at Odsal will be hoping to cheer their boys back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
The final game of the weekend couldn’t be more important or more ground breaking as Danny Ward’s London Broncos travel to Canada to take on the Toronto Wolfpack in a 19:00 kick-off for the last remaining place in Super League in 2019. The top two sides at the end of the regular season were separated by eight points and Toronto won the Qualifying game at the Lamport Stadium by 34-22 after a great fight by the Broncos. Regular season honours were shared with both sides winning their home games and it seems a long time since London’s 47-16 win back in February. The bookies have Toronto as the favourites for promotion, but London will go into the game full of confidence after an excellent Qualifiers competition. Chris Kendall will be on the plane to take control of this crucial match.
Wherever you watch your rugby league this weekend, enjoy.