11 conclusions from the weekend: Bevan French brilliance, Hull FC improvements, Leeds Rhinos form

Aaron Bower
Simon Grix, Brodie Croft, Bevan French

It’s been another blockbuster weekend of action, with big games in all three divisions and some major ramifications in the process.

From the top of Super League all the way down to the battle for promotion in League 1, the rugby league season is shaping up for an epic run-in, with stories aplenty.

Here’s our big conclusions from the weekend’s action.

The League Leader’s Shield looks settled

It feels like the kind of weekend where things go a long way towards being decided at the top of Super League.

Wigan Warriors have a four-point gap at the summit with a game in hand after not only their win over Leigh Leopards, but St Helens’ shock defeat against Castleford Tigers in the process.

Matt Peet’s side are in relentless form at present – can anyone stop them from claiming yet another piece of major silverware?

Bevan French: the hybrid master

Has there been anyone better in Super League at transitioning between fullback and half-back quite like Bevan French?

The Wigan Warriors superstar was at his imperious best again on Friday, this time from fullback in helping the Warriors to another Super League victory.

Whether it’s at one or at six, French is a genuine world-class threat.

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Form is irrelevant going into a derby

Well, St Helens will certainly hope so, anyway.

The Saints’ shock defeat at Castleford has left many supporters fearing the worst ahead of Friday’s showdown with Wigan. Meanwhile, in Hull, Rovers were beaten by Catalans Dragons ahead of their trip to face Hull FC – who also lost at the weekend.

But as we all know, results prior to a derby mean absolutely nothing.

Hull are making encouraging steps

The results are still not there for Simon Grix’s side, but it’s clear there’s some encouraging steps being taken at Hull FC in recent weeks.

They ran Salford incredibly close on Sunday and had it not been for missed goal-kicks, could have run them even closer, too. Their crop of exciting young players are continuing to make great strides – and they will quietly be hoping that they can emerge victorious in the derby this weekend, you would wager.

Leeds Rhinos are still in the hunt

Somehow, despite all of their woes – and another dismal performance on Saturday – Leeds Rhinos are firmly in the hunt for Old Trafford.

It’s incredible to fathom, but the Rhinos – still without a coach – are just two wins off second place in Super League, such is the congested nature of the play-off race.

Of course, they need to muscle their way into the six to have any sort of say this year: but after being so underwhelming for so long, the fact they’re right in the mix still underlines how they cannot be written off whatsoever.

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What’s Castleford’s ceiling in 2024?

This year has been one of steady progression for Castleford, who started dreadfully but have shown great signs of improvement in the last two months or so.

Their win at St Helens on Friday night was undoubtedly their highlight of 2024, and a glance at the Super League table suggests they may fancy their chances of moving up it in the latter stages. They’re now just three points behind eighth-placed Huddersfield: and are looking up, rather than down.

Is time up for Ian Watson?

It wasn’t the result on Friday – it was the manner of it for Ian Watson’s hopes of remaining in charge at Huddersfield Giants.

He insisted post-match that talk about his future wasn’t for him to speculate on, but the Giants’ season is fading out rapidly, and if they continue to lose heavily, you’d have to wager there may be a change sooner, rather than later.

It’s six from seven for the play-offs

It seems likely that, as we head towards the final third of 2024, you can begin to write off the prospects of the aforementioned Giants and Leigh Leopards.

They’re now eight and nine points off the top six respectively, gaps which seem fairly significant given the inconsistencies both possess.

Is it now six from seven?

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Widnes’ mid-season collapse is back

Just like last year, Widnes Vikings appear to have imploded in mid-season.

Their form has fallen off a cliff since a promising start, undoubtedly not helped by a growing number of injury issues, with more players picking up knocks in Sunday’s defeat to Swinton.

They were firmly in the mix for a top-two finish a few weeks ago, but are now arguably looking over their shoulder in the Championship.

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It’s a three-way race for second in the Championship

It looks as though it’ll be between Sheffield, Toulouse and Bradford for second spot. The latter two couldn’t be separated on Saturday in France, while Sheffield blitzed Halifax to tighten their grip on second as things stand.

It could well be vital come the play-offs to finish second – and it looks like a race which will go right down to the wire.

How many teams are in the Championship relegation picture?

Seven? Eight? Nine?

You could, realistically, look all the way to fifth-placed Widnes, who are now just five points clear of the bottom two after another incredible weekend of results.

Even without Widnes in the picture, there is a team currently sat in the play-offs who are just two wins clear of the relegation places. Strap yourselves in: it’s going to be a thrilling end to 2024.

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