Thursday, 18 September 2014

Super League Play Offs Week One Preview

After a superb final round in the Super League regular season finally confirmed the final placings for the 14 teams, the season moves on to the end of season play off competition with the top eight teams in the Super League ladder facing off.

Tonight sees a meeting between second place Wigan and third placed Huddersfield with a week off and a semi final place awaiting the winners and a second chance next week awaiting the losers, the latter something Huddersfield will hope to avoid a repeat of from 2013

The sides met at this stage last season but with Hudddersfield as League Leaders and Wigan in fourth place with the Warriors defying the odds with a 22-8 victory at the John Smith's Stadium which of course laid the foundations for their Grand Final win a month later over Warrington.

Despite the placings this time around, Huddersfield are the favourites to advance on the basis that they secured a league double over Wigan this season with a 24-8 win at the start of the season at the DW Stadium followed by a 31-22 victory in the reverse meeting in late May so the Giants will be confident of writing the wrongs from last season.

Wigan go into the game in good form with three wins from their last five games including strong wins at home to Leeds and Warrington in the last two rounds which will boost their confidence and hopes of reaching and winning a second consecutive Grand Final. The Warriors will be keen to exact revenge on the Giants who are the only side to have been them home and away this season.

Huddersfield are in superb form with four wins in their last five games which has seen them move from what seemed like a settle sixth place to the heights of the top four which resulted in a third placed finish which is good given that their defence of the League Leaders Shield was a mixed one.

Wigan have the luxury of naming an unchanged squad after the win over Warrington with the only notable absentee being Iain Thornley while the Giants will be without talismanic captain Danny Brough for a second successive game meaning Jake Connor will continue to deputise with Luke Robinson retianing his place in the 19 after a heavy hit from Alex Walmsley in the win over St Helens while Eorl Crabtree and Scott Grix return.

Wigan: Bateman, Bowen, Burgess, Charnley, Clubb, Crosby, Dudson, Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Green, Hughes, McIlorum, O'Loughlin, Pettybourne, Powell, Sarginson, Smith, Tomkins
Huddersfield: Grix, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Robinson, Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Bailey, Lawrence, Patrick, Faiumu, Ta’ai, Broughton, Kaufusi, Johnson, Connor

Both sides are in great form but when it comes to the back end of the season, Wigan really step up so Wigan 30 Huddersfield 22. 

Friday night features what in some terms could be looked at as a strange clash as League Leaders Shield winners St Helens host fourth placed Castleford with the Saints collecting the shield in front of a Tigers side that came just one win away from claiming it themselves.

The tightness of the top four meant that Castleford could have finished anywhere from first to fourth but hopefully they will use the sadness of not securing the LLS to spur them on to securing a semi-final place to be just 80 minutes away from a dream Grand Final.

Despite claiming the League Leaders Shield, St Helens go into the game in mixed form with just two wins in their last five games including defeats against Warrington and Huddersfield in the last two round but they will be keen to bounce back on what will be a night of celebration at Langtree Park.

Castleford are in better form than tomorrow evening's opponents as they have won three of their last five games which put them in a great position to secure top spot and the LLS but the defeat to Catalan in the previous round meant they would remain in fourth and have to watch St Helens collect a prize that came so close to being their own.

St Helens will be favourites for the match given that they completed a league double over Castleford with a 30-28 at Castleford coupled with a 38-16 win at Langtree Park, so Castleford will need to be at their best to avoid a third defeat in a row to St Helens.

St Helens will be without the suspended Alex Walmsley who is replaced by Greg Richards while Castleford are still without Justin Carney who remains on the injury list but otherwise the Tigers are able to name a strong 19.
St Helens - Makinson, Turner, Jones, Swift, Hohaia, Masoe, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Laffrachi, Flanagan, Amor, Wellens, Percival, Wheeler, Dawson, Richards, Thompson. 
Castleford Tigers - Dixon, Shenton, Webster, Dorn, Sneyd, Lynch, Milner, Huby, Millington, Hauraki, Massey, Clark, Holmes, Wheeldon, Ellis, Channing, Clare, Jewitt, Finn.

This should be a cracking game given the issues of the past few weekes but I think Castelford's limited play off experience could be their downfall so St Helens 28 Castleford 20.

Saturday features the two elimination play offs where unlike the matches between the top four, there is no second chance for the losing teams while the winners will face the losers of the two qualifying play offs.

The prospect of elimination will be a startling one for Warrington who ended last season as Grand Final runners-up having been 40 minutes away from a first Super League title before succumbing to a resilient Wigan fightback. The Wolves alike most of the top five had the chance to finish as high as second or as low as fifth and after finishing in the top three in each of the last four seasons including the 2011 LLS, having only one chance could see them stutter.

Warrington play host to neighbours Widnes for who the play offs are a different prospect as this will be their first participation in the end of season competition and though just taking part is a dream for the Vikings, the chance to dump their neighbours out of the competition and put themselves just two wins away from the Grand Final is something they would never have believed at the start of the season.

Warrington go into the game with three wins and a draw in their last five games with the defeat to Wigan last week ending their unbeaten run but they will be wary of their neighbours given that the Vikings have won three of the last five meetings between the sides.

Widnes are in similarly good form with three wins in their last five games but a heavy defeat to Salford last week may have dented their confidence but having reached the last four of the Challenge Cup this season, they have the experience of performing well in knockout games. 

The sides have a win apiece in the Super League this season with contrasting results as Warrington cruised to a 44-6 home win at Easter while Widnes exacted revenge in July with a 28-14 win so the onus will be on the Vikings to right the wrongs of their last visit to the Halliwell Jones Stadium. 

Warrington will be without the suspended Paul Wood while James Laithwaite retains his place despite an injury last week at Wigan while Widnes will be without Stefan Marsh who limped off in the loss to Salford while Kevin Brown, Jon Clarke, Danny Tickle, Rhys Hanbury and Eamon O'Caroll are all recalled.

Warrington Wolves - Asotasi, Atkins, Bridge, Currie, England, B.Evans, R.Evans, Harrison, Higham, Hill, Laithwaite, J.Monaghan, M.Monaghan, Myler, O'Brien, Ormsby, Ratchford, Russell, Waterhouse. 
Widnes Vikings - Ah Van, Brown, Cahill, Carberry, Dean, Clarke, Flynn, Galea, Gerrard, Hanbury, Isa, Joseph, Leuluai, Mellor, O'Carroll, Owens, Phelps, Tickle, White.

This will surely be an exciting derby but Widnes' lack of experience could combine with Warrington's fear of an exit and spur the Wolves on so Warrington 26 Widnes 16. 

The second elimination play off sees sixth placed Leeds host seventh placed Catalan with the Rhinos famous for winning the Grand Final from fifth but will have to go one better this season in what would be a miraculous end to the season while Catalan will look to successfully reach week two for the first time since 2011.

The two sides have met twice in last five seasons in the play offs with the Rhinos winning both by the same score with 27-20 wins in the 2009 semi final and 2012 week one fixtures but for Catalan the long travel involved can be a problem given that their away form is poor compared to their near perfect form at home with only Leeds and Wigan victorious in Perpignan.

Leeds go into the game in woeful form with no wins in their last five games so they will be desperate to win to prevent ending the season with six successive losses while after having won the Challenge Cup, there is the chance for a league and cup double for the Rhinos.

Catalan go into the game in good form with three wins in their last five games but will be wary of a Leeds side that has won each of the last five meetings between the sides and with the Dragons having to travel surely that will play a factor in the outcome.

Leeds will be favourites given that they completed a league double over Catalan with a 40-12 victory in Perpignan early in the season followed by a last-gasp 32-31 victory in June in a game where the lead changed hands several times in the final minutes.

Leeds will hope to welcome back Joel Moon from suspension in an otherwise unchanged squad while
Catalan recall Greg Mounis who replaces Damien Cardace in an otherwise unchanged 19.

Leeds Rhinos (from) -Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall. Sinfield, McGuire, Singleton, Aiton, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan, Leuluai, Kirke, Achurch, Burrow, Moon.
Catalan Dragons - EscarĂ©, Pomeroy, Oldfield, Bosc, Elima, Henderson, Lima, Taia, Anderson, Mounis, Maria, Pelissier, Whitehead, Millard, Bousquet, Baitieri, Duport, Garcia, Williams. 

Catalan will need a big performance to overcome their mixed away form but with Leeds in bad form I see them bouncing back here so Leeds 30 Catalan 24.