11 conclusions from the weekend’s rugby league including Leeds Rhinos, Salford Red Devils

Aaron Bower

It’s been another blockbuster weekend of rugby league action across all three professional divisions.

There’s talking points everywhere you look, from Super League all the way down to League 1, and as is traditional on a Monday morning, we’ve run the rule over everyone and every game to pick out our top conclusions from the weekend.

So, without further ado, settle in for your Monday debrief of the weekend’s action.

Would anyone want to go to Salford in the play-offs?

Surely not. Time and time again, the Red Devils keep defying the odds – to such an extent where nowadays, it’s more of a shock when they don’t deliver against one of Super League’s biggest teams.

Salford are now just two points shy of second spot as we head into the second half the season, and it’s now perfectly valid to ask whether or not they can finish inside the top two. That would put them in a huge position of strength going into the play-offs, and nobody would relish a trip to the Red Devils with their season on the line.

And as speculation begins to kick in about Paul Rowley and Leeds you have to wonder: if Rowley wants to be involved in a Grand Final this season, surely his best chance is with the club he’s at now?

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No excuses for Leeds Rhinos

If there would ever have been a night when the emotion and the occasion was perfectly acceptable to prove overwhelming for a team, it was Friday night for Leeds Rhinos.

But the manner in which they handled everything – Rohan Smith’s departure and, far more importantly, the celebrations and tributes towards Rob Burrow – underlines that this squad can deliver, and they can produce. That was against a Leigh side in good form, too.

There are now no excuses for the Rhinos. They’ve shown they can deliver: they have to now do it on a weekly basis.

Are Leigh already entering last-chance saloon?

Adrian Lam Leigh Leopards Alamy
Leigh Leopards head coach Adrian Lam

It may still be a fraction too early to bring up talk of that, with 12 rounds still remaining in 2024 before the play-offs. But after pulling themselves back into top six contention in recent weeks, Friday felt like a damaging night for Leigh Leopards.

They’re now seven points shy of the top six going into the international break and it feels like it may take an extraordinary run of form for Leigh to finish the year inside the play-offs.

Nobody is talking about Hull KR

Good teams find ways to win when they’re not at their best – and how Hull KR proved their title credentials in that respect on Thursday night.

Rovers certainly weren’t at their peak and could have easily left Castleford without any points. But in the end, a late drop goal means they now sit joined-second and two points off the top going into the international break. There’s a lot of hype about many of the top six: are Rovers dipping under the radar?

Wigan’s latest prodigious talent deserves a run

Jack Farrimond Wigan Warriors Alamy
Wigan Warriors youngster Jack Farrimond in a pre-season friendly against Wakefield Trinity

With Jai Field out for the foreseeable future, Matt Peet has a few options at his disposal – but he may have stumbled across the best one on Friday night.

Jack Farrimond was handed only a second Super League start, and a first at home: and how he took his chance with both hands. The nature of his performance surely means he gets an extended run following the international break.

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Denive Balmforth is Hull’s next breakout star

It’s been a difficult 2024 campaign for Hull FC but the one positive they perhaps can take from such a dismal year is that they have a group of young players who have had valuable experience at Super League level.

And there is one who certainly looks like he has a very bright future in Balmforth. The 20-year-old scored a wonderful try against Warrington Wolves and was generally very, very good. With Amir Bourouh arriving from Salford next year, ensuring Balmforth gets enough game-time to continue his development will be vital for new boss John Cartwright.

How much pressure is James Ford under?

A defeat to, of all clubs, his former side York Knights has certainly turned up the heat on Featherstone coach James Ford, you suspect.

Rovers were in control at half-time, leading 18-6 – but somehow managed to losing 34-24 to Mark Applegarth’s York, in a meeting of the two men who headed up Wakefield Trinity’s coaching staff at the beginning of last year. Rovers are now just two points clear of 10th place and while inside the play-offs still, their season is seriously beginning to stumble.

Sheffield may be the biggest threat to Wakefield

Mark Aston Sheffield Eagles PA
Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Archive/PA Images

There’s an argument that, really, Trinity are so far ahead of the pack in the Championship that there’s no side who pose a real threat.

But once again on Sunday, Sheffield Eagles proved that they can’t be written off when it comes to being in contention for a tussle at the top. They won the big showdown with Widnes Vikings to move clear in second place in the Championship, and realistically, the Eagles may now start to dream of a Championship Grand Final later in the year..

The Mark Applegarth effect is in full flow

York won just three of their opening 10 games in the Championship in 2024, which ultimately facilitated in the change of coach and the appointment of Mark Applegarth. Since he arrived, the Knights are two from two.

Their latest win, the aforementioned triumph at Featherstone, moves them just two points behind Featherstone and the play-off places. While they’re also two points clear of the relegation zone, it’s surely a case of looking up the table now for York, rather than over their shoulders.

And those who wondered if Applegarth was capable as a head coach have surely already been proven wrong.

How many teams are in the Championship relegation picture?

The bottom half of the competition has never looked as intriguing. After 12 games, seven teams are separated by just a solitary win, from York in 7th all the way down to Halifax in 13th. You could potentially strike a line through York, who are, as mentioned, now surely thinking of the play-offs.

But why can’t any club in that seven think the same? It only takes a good run of form and you’re out of the relegation fight and right in the play-off picture. That said, lose a few in succession and it’s entirely possible you could get cut adrift. The next few weeks will be fascinating for some pretty big clubs.

League 1’s title race will go right to the wire

Wins again at the weekend for the two sides who look set to go toe-to-toe across the remainder of the season, Oldham and Keighley Cougars.

The Cougars are keeping pace with an Oldham side who have spent significantly in the off-season – and right now, it looks difficult to predict who will be the one sitting on top come the end of the season.

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