The regular rounds of the 'New Era' of Super League are rapidly running out and this weekend saw the 21st round meaning just two more remain before the inaugural series of eights across the top two leagues.
The round began on Thursday night at the DW Stadium as third placed Wigan Warriors hosted league leaders Leeds Rhinos with the Rhinos keen to end the Warriors perfect home record in Super League while the Warriors hoped to cut the four point gap between the sides.
On a night of changing weather conditions, Leeds made the better start with the opening try on ten minutes as Paul Aiton dived over for a try which saw Kevin Sinfield convert for a 6-0 lead. Wigan responded superbly with two tries in three minutes as Liam Farrell crosses ahead of a first try of the season for Sean O'Loughlin with Matty Smith converting both for a 12-6 lead.
Leeds drew level on 27 minutes as Brad Singleton scored with Sinfield converting for a 12-12 scoreline that lasted until five minutes before the interval when Matt Bowen collected a high kick in the Rhinos' in-goal area to claim a try and with Smith converting Wigan led 18-12 into the break. The Warriors extended their lead just ten minutes after the restart as Josh Charnley crossed out wide with Smith sealing a superb conversion for 24-12 but Leeds responded quickly with an effort from Ash Handley with Sinfield's conversion making it 24-18.
Leeds were level with three minutes left as Rob Burrow fooled the Wigan defence superbly to dive over and with Sinfield converting for 24-24, the prospect of a draw seemed the most likely ending but Wigan have yet to drop a point at home and maintained that record in the final seconds. Leeds conceded a penalty with 45 seconds remaining and despite being just inside the Rhinos half, Smith slotted the ball through the posts stunningly to seal a last-gasp 26-24 victory.
Friday night's action came from Langtree Park as second placed St Helens hosted fourth places Huddersfield Giants with the both sides eager to cement their places in the top four ahead of the split.
After fielding a total of seven players at fullback this season, St Helens included new signing Adam Quinlan and he made a superb start to his Super League career with the opening try on 16 minutes and with Luke Walsh making a successful return to the kicking duties he ensured a 6-0 lead. The Giants hit back through loanee Jack Hughes with Jamie Ellis levelling the score at 6-6.
Saints regained the lead on the half hour as Quinlan sealed his second effort with a Walsh conversion making it 12-6 but Huddersfield hit back within three minutes as Jermaine McGillvary crossed out wide with Ellis converting to level at 12-12. The hosts went into the interval 18-12 ahead as Quinlan rounded off a dream first 40 minutes with his hat-trick try which Walsh converted with ease.
Huddersfield levelled for a third time with a try from Leroy Cudjoe just five minutes after the restart with Ellis converting for 18-18. The sides exchanged tries in a seven minute period before the hour mark as Mark Percival crossed ahead of McGillvary's second try with Walsh and Ellis converting respectively for 24-24.
Back to back scores for the hosts in four minutes after the hour saw them take a 34-24 lead as Joe Greenwood crossed ahead of a second effort from Percival with Walsh converting just the latter and the missed conversion proved costly as the Giants drew level yet again. Tries from Eorl Crabtree and Aaron Murphy saw a single conversion from Ellis at 34-34 to set up a tense final period.
Danny Brough missed a penalty from long range and it was a crucial miss as with two minutes remaining, Walsh sealed a 35-34 triumph for the Saints with a superb drop goal.
Sunday afternoon saw the other four games take place with a potentially vital clash at the KC Stadium featuring top eight hopefuls Hull FC hosting of top four hopefuls Castleford Tigers with FC keen to cement a top eight place ahead of this week's city derby.
The Tigers made the better start of the two sides with Denny Solomona continuing his stellar scoring form with the opening try on five minutes for 4-0. The hosts hit back through Richard Whiting with Marc Sneyd converting for a 6-4 lead but the Tigers responded with an effort from Luke Dorn on 18 minutes with Liam Finn converting to regain the lead at 10-6.
Solomona sealed his second try on 33 minutes to extend the lead to 14-6 which lasted into the interval but a try five minutes after the restart from Jordan Abdull and resulting conversion from Sneyd saw FC close the gap to 14-12. Castleford were unable to regain the lead before a ten minute brace from Tom Lineham put FC in control at 20-14 and wary of a response, Sneyd added a drop goal for 21-14 with nine minutes remaining. However, Ben Roberts crossed on 76 minutes to narrow the gap to three points but a missed conversion ensured a 21-18 defeat.
After suffering a humiliating 80-0 defeat earlier in the season, Wakefield Wildcats hoped for a huge improvement in a clash of the Smith brothers as Brian's Wildcats hosted Tony's Warrington Wolves.
Warrington opened the scoring inside seven minutes through stand-in loose forward Stefan Ratchford with Gareth O'Brien converting for a 6-0 lead which became 12-0 six minutes later as Joe Philbin scored with O'Brien converting for a second time. Wakefield replied through Jacob Miller whose self-converted try made it 12-6 but the Wolves stormed clear with tries from Matty Russell and Ben Westwood with a single conversion from O'Brien creating a 22-6 lead.
Wakefield have suffered some heavy defeat this year but they remained in the hunt with a second effort from Miller just before the interval which he converted for 22-10 and he went one better with his hat-trick try just five minutes after the restart for 22-14. However, Warrington reached the 30 point mark with two tries in as many minutes from Daryl Clark and Richie Myler with O'Brien converting both for 34-14.
Miller sealed a fourth try on 68 minutes with Craig Hall converting for 34-20 but it proved to be in vain as Matty Russell's second try in the final minutes put the gloss on a vital win for the Wolves with O'Brien converting for a 40-20 final score that ensures a spot in the top eight ahead of the split.
A huge clash at the Select Security Stadium saw Widnes Vikings host Catalans Dragons with both on opposite sides of the eight place battle with the Dragons close to cementing their place while the Vikings are just on the fringes of top eight.
The Dragons away form has been questionable this season but they got off to a good start with two tries inside 13 minutes as Louis Anderson and Elliot Whitehead crossed with both scores converted by Scott Dureau for 12-0. Widnes responded with two tries of their own before the half hour as Patrick Ah Van and Tom Gilmore crossed with Stefan Marsh converting both to level at 12-12.
Widnes led into the interval as Paddy Flynn sealed a 38th minute try which Marsh improved for 18-12 with the Vikings winger adding a second effort on 52 minutes to extend the lead to 22-12. A penalty and drop goal in the space of three minutes from Gilmore left the Dragons with a 13 point deficit to overturn at 25-12.
The prospect of a comeback ended when Ah Van registered his second try on 72 minutes for 29-12 but the Dragons did have the last say on the outcome with two tries in the last three minutes as Whitehead scored a second before a last minute try from Morgan Escaré which Dureau improved for a 29-22 final score.
Another huge battle for the Super Eight's took place at the AJ Bell Stadium as the Salford Red Devils hosted Hull Kingston Rovers with Rovers on the fringes of eighth and the Red Devils needing a perfect final three games to avoid the Middle Eight's.
The Robins have been sketchy away from Hull itself but made a good start with an opening try inside four minutes from Tyrone McCarthy with Josh Mantellato converting for 6-0. A tight first period saw just the single score but Salford responded on 20 minutes through Ben Jones-Bishop for 6-4 before two tries in nine minutes from Albert Kelly (Mantellato convs) sent the Robins into the interval leading 18-4.
However, Kelly's brace proved to be the final points of the game for the visitors as the Red Devils staged a stunning comeback in the second half which began with three tries in nine minutes with Josh Griffin and Weller Hauraki (Michael Dobson conv) crossing ahead of a second effort from Jones-Bishop to level at 18-18.
As the game entered the final seven minutes, the sides remained level but a try from Theo Fages and subsequent conversion from Dobson put the hosts ahead at 24-18 with Dobson adding a drop goal for 25-18. The Robins were unable to respond and were consigned to a defeat with a 79th minute effort from Niall Evalds with a final conversion from Dobson confirming a 31-18 victory.