After a long, protracted, Covid-hit season, the Betfred Super League play-offs are upon us. The peak season for the 13-man game in England and the northern hemisphere.
For followers of the Australian game, the NRL finals are already in full swing downunder, whilst the wheelchair grand final was played out to much acclaim on Sunday.
In League 1, Hunslet were the first side to be eliminated under the convoluted promotion system. But this weekend sees Sky televise four play-off games, from both the Super League as well as those vying to make it there.
With Catalans Dragons and St Helens both setting very high standards to the rest of the league, the eventual winners of these ties will have their work cut out. But a win not only provides them with momentum but takes them just 80 minutes from the semi-finals at Old Trafford.
The fun starts here.
Four sides start their Play-offs journey this week 👀@WarringtonRLFC v @hullkrofficial@WiganWarriorsRL v @leedsrhinos@DragonsOfficiel & @Saints1890 are waiting in the semi-finals 🍿 #SuperLeague pic.twitter.com/qKcA0CBLem
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) September 20, 2021
Game One: Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos
Both these sides have had lackluster campaigns. They have suffered inconsistent form with continuously changing line-ups. Players have not had time to form partnerships, and they have suffered heavy defeats at the hands of their rivals.
But seasoned Super League watchers would be hard-pressed to immediately write either of these sides off. They represent two of only four ever winners, and historically know how to time their runs to perfection.
Whilst Catalans celebrated their League Leader’s Shield at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, these historic victors have been slowly building for when it matters – the Super League play-offs 2021. After spasmodic campaigns, Wigan has won two on the trot (including a 12-8 victory over the Dragons), with Leeds coming up with two victories from the past three.
A spate of injured players look set to return too. Wigan welcome back wingman Liam Marshall, as well as Shorrocks, John Bateman, and Morgan Smithies, with the Rhinos grateful for the services of Mellor and vital prop forward Mikołaj Olędzki.
But the continued absence of Luke Gale will hurt. With a fully firing Jackson Hastings, and too many of Leeds’s returnees out of match practice, the ‘Pies’ should have just enough to pip it.
LWOR verdict: Wigan by 6-15
Game Two: Warrington Wolves v Hull Kingston Rovers
This fixture represents Hull KR’s first Betfred Super League play-offs appearance since 2013, and with a rejuvenated style of rugby league, it is nothing less than they deserve. They secured their place after Castleford’s loss, ironically coming against Warrington. But they will have their work cut out if they’re to make the semi-finals for the first time since the 1984-85 Premiership.
Warrington were the only side to be on nodding terms with the runaway Catalans and St Helens, and are buoyed by a squad on an upward trajectory. George Williams is looking more and more astute with each passing week, whilst the effervescent Jake Mamo threatens. They have one of the most potent packs in the league, and you write off Stefan Ratchford at your mercy.
It will be difficult for Rovers, but it is not a fait accompli. Matt Parcell has been one of Super League’s standout second rowers, whilst Kiwi captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall remains an elusive threat. They also possess one of the greatest England wingers this century in Ryan Hall, keen to set up a rematch with a Catalans Dragons side against whom he scored a hat-trick back in March.
But Hull KR will have to improve markedly from their abject display against Leeds last Friday, whilst hoping Warrington repeat their mini meltdown during the Castleford game throughout. It’s very hard to see the men from East Hull coming away victorious, but it should be entertaining nonetheless.
LWOR verdict: Warrington by 20-30
The game that decides the semi-finals fixtures 🤩
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) September 20, 2021
Contest on for the Betfred Championship
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the other play-off ties happening this weekend. Just as in Super League, the Championship has two elimination fixtures in which the winners will have their work cut out next week. Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers will be tough for any side to manage, but the four sides will be desperate to take them on and demonstrate their worth in front of the Sky cameras.
On Saturday at 3.15pm, Batley welcomes their former boss John Kear and his Bradford Bulls side. Despite securing home advantage with an impressive victory against Halifax last Sunday, the Bulldogs may struggle against the former Super League champions.
They only have 15 fit players to call on as of now, and whilst they may receive some players back, it could prove a step too far against the battle-hardened and better-resourced Bradfordians.
🎟 TICKETS NOW ON SALE! | Playoffs #PanthersVsWhitehaven
🍽 | Dining also available!
— Halifax Panthers 🐾 (@HalifaxPanthers) September 22, 2021
Straight after that, the coverage moves across West Yorkshire to the Shay, where Halifax host Whitehaven. This season’s showing represents the best performance by a Cumbrian outfit since Barrow Raiders’ fourth-place finish in 2010.
They overtook London Broncos on the final day of the season thanks to an unlikely victory at Bradford, but a win here would go down in their annals of history. Halifax has looked impressive all season with a Grix in the dugout and on the pitch. They have had a level of consistency unmatched outside of the top three, and it’s very hard to see anything other than a victory for the Panthers.
LWOR verdict: Bradford by 11-20 | Halifax by 31-40
* at the time of publishing, Game One had been completed.
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