After a break for the Challenge Cup semi finals, Super League returned in its new guise of the Super 8s with the top eight teams in retaining their points in a new division as they chase the goal of the play-off semi finals.
The round opened on Thursday night at the DW Stadium in a battle of third against fourth as Wigan Warriors hosted Huddersfield Giants. The hosts looked to close up on the top two while the Giants hoped to move within a point of the Warriors.
In the regular season, the Warriors boasted a perfect home record with 11 wins but their pursuit of a 12th took an early blow as a brace from Jermaine McGillvary (Danny Brough conv) saw the Giants lead 10-0. Liam Farrell responded with a try on 33 minutes with Matty Smith's conversion making it 10-6 but the hosts went into the interval with a four point deficit.
Two tries in as many minutes from Dom Manfredi and George Williams saw Wigan go ahead with Smith's converting both efforts for 18-10 before loanee's Jack Hughes (Brough conv) and Larne Patrick (Smith conv) scored against their parent clubs for 24-16. Eorl Crabtree's 73rd minute try moved the Giants to 20 points with Brough's conversion cutting the gap to just two points at 24-22.
The Giants pushed for a potential winning try but saw their hopes dashed by Dom Crosby's match-sealing effort with three minutes remaining with Smith converting for a 30-22 victory that moved the Warriors into second above St Helens and level on points with Leeds.
Friday's heavyweight clash came from the Headingley Carnegie Stadium as league leaders Leeds Rhinos hosted sixth placed Warrington Wolves with the Wolves hoping to close up on the top four and prevent the Rhinos moving clear at the top.
Warrington started the better of the two sides with an 11th minute opener from Kevin Penny converted by debutant Chris Sandow for a 6-0 lead but Leeds replied through Kallum Watkins just three minutes later and with Kevin Sinfield converting, the Rhinos drew level at 6-6. Tom Briscoe crossed on the wing to put the Rhinos ahead at 10-6 before a four minute salvo from Zak Hardaker and Danny McGuire saw Sinfield convert both to extend the lead to 22-6.
Leeds went into the interval with an 18 point lead after Sinfield converted a penalty in the final seconds of the half for 24-6 to leave the Wolves needing a massive turnaround in the second half. The comeback began just seven minutes after the restart as Penny claimed his second try for 24-10 but to the Wolves despair, his try was to be their last of the evening as the Rhinos ran riot.
Hardaker crossed for his second try on 54 minutes with Joel Moon extending the lead further just four minutes later with Sinfield's boot moving the score to 36-10 before he swept over a 69th minute drop goal for 37-10. Leeds put over 40 points past St Helens in the previous week and did the same to the Wolves as Rob Burrow and Carl Ablett each crossed in the final six minutes with Sinfield converting to complete a huge 49-10 triumph.
Friday's second game came from the Mend-A-Hose Jungle as fifth placed Castleford Tigers hosted seventh placed Hull FC with both sides in pursuit of a top four finish after a good regular season campaign.
Hull made a perfect start by racing into a 12-0 lead within five minutes with tries from Richard Whiting and Jordan Rankin with both efforts converted by former Tigers half Marc Sneyd. Castleford responded in style with Michael Shenton scoring a 15 minute hat-trick with efforts on 21,25 and 36 minutes with the latter converted by Luke Gale for a 16-12 lead. Hull stemmed the Tigers spree just before the interval as Steve Michaels crossed and Sneyd converted for a 18-16 half-time advantage.
Tom Lineham ensured back-to-back tries for the visitors with Sneyd converting for 24-16 but Shenton struck for a fourth time on 47 minutes with Gale's conversion cutting the deficit to two at 24-22. Gale scored a self-converted try on the hour before adding a penalty for 30-24 as the Tigers looked to build a lead and with six minutes left, Ash Gibson looked to have sealed the win with Gale converting for 36-24. Hull set up a tense finish as Jack Logan (Sneyd conv) made it 36-30 with three minutes left of the 80 but the Tigers held on to claim the two points.
The round came to an end at a soaked Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday as eighth placed Catalans Dragons hosted third placed St Helens with the Dragons eager to boost their top four hopes at the expense of the champions who looked to reclaim second spot from Wigan.
Only Leeds and Huddersfield had claimed wins in Perpignan in the regular season but with such poor weather, the Saints harboured hopes of opening their 8s campaign on a high. However, their hopes suffered an early blow as Tony Gigot opened the scoring for the hosts on 11 minutes with Scott Dureau converting for 6-0 before adding a penalty on 21 minutes for 8-0. Saints replied with a self-converted try from Luke Walsh for 8-6 but the Dragons regained their eight point lead on the half hour through Louis Anderson (Dureau conv) at 14-6.
Matty Dawson crossed five minutes before the interval to move the score to 14-10 but an effort from Morgan Escaré (Dureau conv) in the final seconds of the half gave the Dragons a 20-10 lead into half-time. A fiery start to the second half saw Dragons centre Ben Pomeroy sent off for a high-shot on Josh Jones withing three minutes of the restart but the numerical disadvantage didn't phase the hosts as Dureau added two penalties in five minutes for 24-10.
Saints had half an hour with an extra man to stage a comeback and the foundations were laid on 57 minutes as Joe Greenwood crossed to make it 24-14 with Walsh improving the score to 24-16 with the boot. The deficit should have been cut further when Dawson looked to have claimed his second try but as he crossed the line he lost the ball and it proved to be a costly error as what could have been 24-22 became 26-16 late on as Krisnan Inu added a penalty to wrap up a famous win for the Dragons.