Betfred Super League Play-offs – Week 2 fixtures set to ‘fire up’ fans

Super League Play-offs - Week 2 fixtures
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Last week saw the start of the Super League play-offs and the knockouts to reach the elite tier. This week, in the first and second divisions, the first- and second-placed sides enter the fray. Players, fans, and staff alike know that they are just 80 minutes away from the big one.

Super League Play-offs – Week 2 fixtures

In both leagues, the top two have been a class above the rest throughout the year. Any loss by the home sides would prove to be against the grain. But as last week demonstrated league standings, form, and fitness count for little in a one-off affair. The road to Super League stardom, and to Super League promotion itself, continues in earnest.

For the remaining semifinalists, it’s all gone up a notch.

Catalans Dragons v Hull KR (Kingston Rovers)

The opening fixture is marked as one of the most interesting and scintillating semi-finals in recent years if nothing but for the backstory. From this sell-out clash will come a new Super League-era grand finalist, the ninth overall.

On current showing, the smart money would be on that side being Catalans. They won the League Leader’s Shield after a consistently dominant regular season campaign, and boast several Dream Team players (including big Sam Kasiano – see main image) to set this Super League Play-offs match on fire!

The soon-to-be-retired James Maloney will be utilizing his years of skill and experience to cause problems from the halves. The ex-NRL player must motivate his group to retain their peak performance, whilst a decision on England captain Sam Tomkins’ availability is still to be determined. Fouad Yaha and Tom Davies provide dangerous wide threats, whilst the Dragons boast one of the league’s most formidable packs.

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But this is not the walkover that the matchup on paper suggests. After Hull KR’s heroics against Warrington in last week’s play-offs, particularly the exciting play of their halves Mikey Lewis and Jordan Abdull, the Robins will have an extra bounce in their bobbing. Captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Scotland international Kane Linnett are more than capable of blunting the opposition threat.

That they won with eight first-teamers sidelined, up to a third of their salary cap spend unavailable, is all the more remarkable, and an indication of what they are truly capable of.

But to reach Old Trafford, they will need to put in an even better performance than their Friday outing. They must play to their potential, and hope the Catalans’ side are ‘even more error-stricken and unthreatening than the Wolves were’. It’s possible, but unlikely.

LWOR verdict: Catalans by 6-15

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St Helens v Leeds Rhinos

Both of these sides are seasoned campaigners in the Super League play-offs. As mentioned in the build-up to last week’s action, the Rhinos have a knack for perfectly timing their campaign. That they’ve won Super League from fifth in the past is an omen fans will be desperately clinging onto.

But such notions will only go so far against one of the most dominant sides this decade. From 1-13 they are stacked with talent. They possess the most potent backline in the league, with two of the most exciting British wingers in Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace. Through the middle, they have the creativity of Jonny Lomax and the breakthrough Lewis Dodd.

Whether starting or, more likely, coming off the bench as an impact player, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook will torment the rag-tag Leeds defence. It looks like a tough night is in order for the Loiners, against whom St Helens recorded a 40-14 victory just 3 weeks ago.

Another week provides more time for injured players to recover and more to return to the fold. The judicial pardoning of Matt Prior, Mikołaj Olędzki and Harry Newman will give them a glimmer of hope to.

Luke Gale was not as heavily missed against Wigan as first thought. That is in part due to the ability of Robert Lui, but also owing to the poor quality of opposition. Against St Helens, they will have far fewer opportunities to make threatening kicks in a dangerous area, with Kristian Woolf’s men likely to dominate possession and territory.

Leeds is a club replete with institutional knowledge of navigating the Super League play-offs. Unfortunately for them, they come up with an equally well-heeled, and substantially higher quality side.

LWOR verdict: St Helens 16-25

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In Division 2, the Betfred Championship contest continues with sides focused squarely on the promotion series. Worth millions to the club, everything will be used to motivated all four clubs yet, only two will make the Final.

Toulouse Olympique v Batley Bulldogs

It speaks volumes of the cosmopolitan-cum-regionalist nature of rugby league that this fixture is part of the play-offs to make the Super League. For a Batley side with neither the resources nor inclination to achieve Super League status, simply making it this far, after a solid 23-10 victory over Bradford, is cause for celebration. Just like their Super 8s run in 2016, a higher than expected positioning – with a few televised games for good measure, looks set to deliver a not insignificant bounty.

With long-term futures still unknown, that can help keep their feet above water during the latest reshuffle. If nothing else it’s a reminder to the powers that be of the utility of such ‘small-town’ clubs.

As for Toulouse, they should win this at a canter. Head coach Sylvain Houles is too much of a professional to give onlookers (or his players) the impression of an easy dry run. But, they are undefeated all season, conceding less than nine points per game on average. They even have the support of French rugby assistant coach, and league great, Shaun Edwards to motivate them!

They dispatched the Bulldogs 32-12 at Mount Pleasant earlier in the year, and it would surely be the most unexpected upset this year were they to win away. The likes of Tony Gigot, Mark Kheirallah, Jonathan Ford, and Domonique Peyroux, all seasoned internationals, will be too strong for a Batley side already down to the bare bones.

It’s a chance to reacquaint themselves with their newish home ground, the impressive Stade Ernest Wallon that they share with the city’s union side. A strong victory here will set the benchmark for next week’s Million Pound Game.

LWOR verdict: Toulouse by 40-50

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Featherstone Rovers v Halifax Panthers

Despite both sides being part-time, this is another clash where anything other than Featherstone domination would represent a remarkable turn of events. Featherstone, with a week’s break, have already beaten their opponents twice this season, including a 54-22 thrashing less than a month ago.

They have only lost twice this season: once to Toulouse, and the other in the Challenge Cup to Hull FC. That impressive record also includes triumph in the 1895 Cup, providing the side with instinctive muscle memory of knock-out football conditions, to take into the play-offs in their efforts to reach the Super League.

For their part, Halifax was distinctly average for large periods against Whitehaven. They never seemed secure in their lead, and only guaranteed their nervy 24-20 win at the final hooter. Manager Simon Grix will need to demand a lot more out of his players. If they are to make any sort of impact, then his brother Scott will need to have the game of his life from full-back – in what may prove to be his final game.

As hard as the Panthers will try, Featherstone are stacked with seasoned Championship players. From Dane Chisholm to Brett Ferres. They have scored an average of over 58 points in their past five matches, and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for them to match that scoreline on Saturday.

LWOR verdict: Featherstone by 30-40

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