With Super League announcing the abandonment of as yet unscheduled fixtures, the road to the playoffs is taking shape. There are now only three more rounds, with clubs left with just one more home fixture.
Super League have just confirmed on a media briefing that Rounds 23-25 are likely to be the only games left to play this year. No more room to fit in rescheduled matches. So that means that mathematically, Leigh have been relegated.
— ᴀᴀʀᴏɴ ʙᴏᴡᴇʀ (@AaronBower) August 31, 2021
The points-per-game ranking makes calculations and possible permutations that much harder to quantify. But with limited fixtures and time of the essence, the finish line to the top six is coming ever closer into view.
With the recent fixture confirmation, we know that Leigh are mathematically relegated. It’s also impossible for either Huddersfield, Salford or Wakefield to make the play-offs. But it’s not just making the top six that matters.
Finishing first or second earns a bye, and then a home semi-final to qualify for Old Trafford. It puts the hosts at a massive advantage on a physical, logistical and psychological level.
Super squeaky league leaders fight
Results on Monday mean that Catalans Dragons are guaranteed a top-two finish at the very least. Their consistency this season has been remarkable, particularly for a side once renowned for being poor travelers.
As well as securing a home semi-final for the first time in their history, it also edges them closer to the League Leaders’ Shield. For a club with only one Challenge Cup in their trophy cabinet, such a feat is nothing to scoff at. It would represent the culmination of over a decade of hard work, financial struggle and determination by the team at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, headed by enigmatic chairman Bernard Guasch. Two victories from three would guarantee the title.
St Helens will still be eyeing top spot. Hosting an out-of-sorts Leeds before an away day at Salford represents a surmountable challenge. If they win more games than Catalans, they’ll walk away with the Shield.
After dispatching Warrington, they only need one more win to secure a top-two spot. With St Helens unlikely to lose all three, and Wire having to win all three, the semi-finalists appear secure (if not quite the order).
The Usual Suspects
Warrington will have to accept an early role in the Super League play-offs, but they will at least have home advantage. The most exciting dual comes for the remaining three Super League play-off spots. Wigan are best placed in fourth but have arguably the hardest run-in. They only need one victory to secure advancement, but four of the other five are still capable of leapfrogging them.
A Magic tie against Warrington, a trip to play-off rivals Hull FC, before hosting the runaway Catalan Dragons are all threatening matchups. With their current form, it’s easy to see them losing all three. Which would open the door to other challengers.
Leeds also have a tough culmination to their season, facing both Hull clubs either side of a trip to St Helens. Predicting which Leeds side will turn up has been a challenge all season. They have chopped and changed the halves with frustrating regularity, with Richard Agar barely able to maintain control of a seemingly rudderless ship.
But it’s in their hands. Victory over both East Yorkshire sides would guarantee a spot. They may even get away with a solitary win if other sides below them fail to capitalise.
Super League Playoffs Best of the Rest
Castleford, Hull FC and Hull KR have all failed to win more than half of their fixtures. Predicting them to win more than one of their remaining three would thus seem foolish. But these sides have much easier run-ins. Only Castleford play a top-three side, and they will be looking to repeat their three-score victory over Warrington earlier this season.
As the sides above them falter, they may have leeway to overtake their rivals. But even if Wigan and Leeds hold firm, there is still one more Super League play-off place to secure. Hull KR host Castleford next weekend in a vital fixture. One suspects the loser will essentially be cut adrift.
All three face sides below them with nothing to play for: Castleford against Salford and Rovers versus Leigh in Newcastle, with Hull FC up against caretaker-operated Wakefield. These are the ‘must win’ games that they really need to leave a mark on the race for the play-offs.
From ‘Pings’ to Play-Offs
Of course, this year has seen the best laid plans go awry to Covid. It is not inconceivable that there are further isolationist concerns.
But it’s reasonable to believe that the worst is behind us. England may be heading towards ‘endemic equilibrium’, with cases falling consistently now. More players will have been double-jabbed and/or infected, reducing the chances of contracting Covid.
With more looming ‘cup finals’, players may take it upon themselves to be more precautious. It’s not that they have been reckless – they and their families live amongst their communities. But the Challenge Cup Final demonstrated that biosecurity can be enhanced when required or desired. Covid seems to be the least of these sides’ problems.
The race for the Super League play-offs is well and truly on. We have a fascinating title challenge between two excellent sides. There’s an engrossing scrap involving nearly half the league, with only three weeks left. Buckle up.
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