Last week saw the start of the Super League play-offs and the round of 16 to reach elite level. This week, in the first and second divisions, the teams ranked first and second enter the fray. Players, fans and staff know they’re only 80 minutes from the big one.
Super League play-offs – Week 2 matches
In both leagues, the top two have been a class above the rest throughout the year. Any loss by the local crews would prove against the grain. But as last week demonstrated, league standings, form and fitness count little in a one-off affair. The road to Super League stardom, and the promotion of the Super League itself, continues in earnest.
Semi-final week 🤩
– Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) September 27, 2021
For the remaining semi-finalists, everything went up a notch.
Catalan Dragons vs. Hull KR (Kingston Rovers)
The opener is marked as one of the most interesting and scintillating semi-finals of recent years, if only for the backstory. From this sold-out clash will come a new grand finalist of the Super League era, the ninth overall.
On the current show, smart money would be on this side of the Catalans. They won the League’s Leader Shield after a still dominant regular season campaign and boast several Dream Team players (including the great Sam Kasiano – see main image) to set this Super League Play-offs game on fire!
The soon to be retired James maloney will use his years of skill and experience to cause half problems. The former NRL player must motivate his squad to keep his peak performances, while a decision on England captain Sam Tomkins availability remains to be determined. Fouad Yaha and Tom Davies pose wide and dangerous threats, while the Dragons have one of the most formidable packs in the league.
But this is not the way forward that confrontation on paper suggests. After Hull KR’s exploits against Warrington in last week’s playoffs, especially exciting play from their halves Mikey Lewis and Jordan Abdull, the Robins will have an extra rebound in their float. Captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Scotland international Kane Linnett are more than capable of mitigating the opposing threat.
That they won with eight core teams sidelined, with up to a third of their salary cap not being available, is all the more remarkable and indicates what they are truly capable of.
But to reach Old Trafford, they will need to put in an even better performance than when they came out on Friday. They must play to their potential and hope that the Catalan side will be “even more error-ridden and less threatening than Wolves”. It is possible, but unlikely.
LWOR Verdict: Catalans by 6-15
St Helens vs. Leeds Rhinos
Both of these teams are seasoned Super League playoff activists. As mentioned in the build-up to last week’s action, the Rhinos have a knack for timing their campaign perfectly. That they’ve won the Super League from fifth place in the past is an omen fans will desperately cling to.
But such notions will only go against one of the more dominant sides of this decade so far. From 1 to 13, they are full of talent. They have the most powerful backline in the league, with two of Britain’s most exciting wingers, Tommy Makinson and Regan Grace. In the middle, they have the creativity of Jonny Lomax and the breakthrough Lewis Dodd.
Whether he’s starting out or, more likely, stepping off the bench as an impact player, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook will torment Leeds’ defense. It looks like a tough night is ahead for the Loiners, against whom St Helens recorded a 40-14 victory just 3 weeks ago.
– St. Helens RFC (@ Saints1890) September 24, 2021
Another week gives injured players more time to recover and more time to return to the fold. The judiciary thanks from Matt Prior, Mikołaj Olędzki and Harry Newman will give them a glimmer of hope.
Luke Gale wasn’t as bad against Wigan as initially thought. This is partly due to the capacity of Robert Lui, but also to the poor quality of the opposition. Against St Helens they will have far fewer opportunities to make threatening kicks in a danger zone, with Kristian Woolf’s men likely to dominate possession and territory.
Leeds are a club with institutional knowledge of Super League qualifying navigation. Unfortunately for them, they offer an equally well-heeled and much higher quality side.
LWOR Verdict: St Helens 16-25
In Division 2, the Betfred Championship competition continues with teams focused entirely on the series of promotions. Worth millions for the club, everything will be used to motivate the four clubs yet, only two will go to the final.
Toulouse Olympique vs. Batley Bulldogs
It says a lot about the cosmopolitan and regionalist nature of the rugby league that this match is part of the play-offs to make the Super League. For a Batley side with neither the resources nor the inclination to achieve Super League status, content to go this far, after a solid 23-10 victory over Bradford, is a cause for celebration. Much like their Super 8s in 2016, higher-than-expected positioning – with a few game shows for good measure, looks set to deliver a sizable premium.
With a long-term future as yet unknown, this may help keep our feet above water during the latest reshuffle. If nothing else, it’s a reminder to the powers that be of the usefulness of these “small town” clubs.
As for the Toulousains, they should win at a gallop. Head coach Sylvain Houles is too professional to give spectators (or his players) the impression of an easy descent. But, they are undefeated all season, conceding less than nine points per game on average. They even have the support of the assistant French rugby coach, and great league champion, Shaun Edwards to motivate them!
Shaun EDWARDS, champion with @OfficialBullsRL , @LondonBroncosRL , @WiganWarriorsRL , and now in the staff of @FranceRugby, expressed himself in @leagueexpress on the XIII in France, especially in Toulouse. ??
Thank you very much for the support Shaun! ?? pic.twitter.com/kriXHe9Mgr
– Toulouse Olympique XIII (@TOXIII) September 28, 2021
They sent the Bulldogs 32-12 To Mount Pleasant earlier in the year, and it would surely be the most unexpected upset this year if they won. The likes of Tony Gigot, Mark Kheirallah, Jonathan Ford and Domonique Peyroux, all seasoned internationals, will be too strong for a Batley team already reduced to the essentials.
This is the opportunity to rediscover their brand new ground, the impressive Ernest Wallon stadium, which they share with the city’s union team. A solid win here will set the benchmark for next week Million Pound Game.
LWOR verdict: Toulouse by 40-50
Featherstone Rovers vs. Halifax Panthers
Although the two sides are part-time, this is another clash where anything other than Featherstone’s dominance would represent a remarkable turn of events. Featherstone, with a week’s break, has already beaten opponents twice this season, including one 54-22 beating less than a month ago.
They have only lost twice this season: one against Toulouse, and the other in the Challenge Cup against Hull FC. This impressive record also includes triumph at the 1895 Cup, providing the instinctive side muscle memory knockout football conditions, to participate in the play-offs in their efforts to reach the Super League.
For their part, Halifax was clearly average for extended periods against Whitehaven. They never seemed sure of their lead and only guaranteed their nervous 24-20 victory during the last siren. Manager Simon Grix will have to demand a lot more from his players. If they want to make an impact, then his brother Scott will have to have the game of his life at the back – in what could prove to be his last game.
#Be there | Betfred Championship semi-final on Saturday
“I hope the fans can come out in force this week and line up behind the boys. It’s a huge game for us and the boys have a real buzz when they sing and the drum is spinning. They create a real atmosphere. ”
Ben kavanagh pic.twitter.com/IAptdrgmGJ
– Halifax Panthers (@HalifaxPanthers) September 27, 2021
As tough as the Panthers try, Featherstone is packed with seasoned championship players. From Dane Chisholm to Brett Ferres. They have averaged over 58 points in their last five games, and it wouldn’t be impossible for them to match that score on Saturday.
LWOR Verdict: Featherstone by 30-40
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“Main photo credit”
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