engage Super League Round 21 Preview

Each week, I tend to make a premature assumption about the weekend’s play, and am promptly proven wrong by at least one improbable result.nnNot this week. I choose to maintain a far more impartial stance on what might happen in Round 21 of Super League XIII, so if any shock results do come up, then I save at least a little face.nnIt does admittedly look impossible for anyone to dislodge the top three, and the bottom three appears to have ran out of time for a late play-off surge.nnHowever, in the middle ground of the engage Super League table, the day is certainly not done. Anything is still a possibility.nnWarrington v Bradford nnThe live Friday night fixture on Sky sees a crucial match-up in the race for the play-offs, when Warrington (fifth) host Bradford (sixth) at the Halliwell Jones Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm).nnBradford’s mid-season struggle continued last Sunday, as they were consigned to their fourth loss in six. A Chris Thorman drop-goal was the difference in a 25-24 defeat.nnCentre Paul Sykes is unavailable for selection after being hit with a one-match ban for a sending off in last week’s ill-tempered defeat at Huddersfield.nnHooker Terry Newton was twice placed on report, but got away without a punishment. However, he is still is a doubt with an ankle injury, as are Andy Lynch and Sam Burgess.nnSteve McNamara knows his side are more than capable of bouncing back this week, though, and the news of skipper Paul Deacon‘s return from seven matches out with hamstring trouble is much-needed, as the Odsal club look to erase the two-point gap between them and Warrington.nnWarrington coach James Lowes has been an inspirational appointment, with his side picking up four wins from five since his arrival. A win for his side would open up a four-point gap over Bradford, as Lowes looks set to name the same starting 13 that pasted Wakefield 60-24 last Sunday.nnThe return of Deacon for Bradford is a major boost, and he could well prove to be the spice his side need to secure a play-off spot. However, Warrington are a tough nut to crack on their own patch, and have given very little away since the arrival of Lowes, so will be hard to beat.nn Leeds v Huddersfield nnLeeds are out of sorts, and have tasted defeat three times in four games, after losing just twice all season before. Rob Burrow missed a penalty 20 seconds from time last Friday night, which would have snatched a victory from Wigan’s grasp, as the Headingley side show their first signs of weakness in an otherwise flawless season.nnThey host a Huddersfield side buoyed by the narrowest of victories over Bradford last Sunday, in a fixture which, just a month ago, would have been a foregone conclusion.nnBrian McLennan will be relieved by captain Kevin Sinfield being cleared to play. The loose forward hobbled off at the JJB Stadium last week, but treatment this week and a scan on Tuesday have cleared Sinfield to feature against the Giants.nnKiwi centre Clinton Toopi makes his long-awaited return, after dislocating a shoulder in the World Club Challenge win over Melbourne way back in February.nnHuddersfield haven’t won two on the run since March, and have a slightly better chance of doing so here, with skipper Chris Thorman cleared to play, and half-back Luke Robinson recovering from an eye injury.nnInfluential half-back Thorman has somehow been cleared to play by the RFL after biting Bradford full-back Michael Platt last Sunday.nnThe news that the key half-back pairing of Thorman and Robinson will probably still not be enough to stop Leeds getting back to winning ways at Headingley, and an away win would be a big upset.nnSt Helens v Castleford nnOne presumptuous remark I can be confident with this weekend is regarding Castleford’s visit to the GPW Recruitment Stadium to face red-hot St Helens. nnSt Helens will win, and win well. If Cas pick up two points here, I’ll buy a posh hat and consume it accordingly.nnSt Helens have been in mesmerising form in the last few months, winning 13 straight in all competitions. Their recent defensive displays have been nothing short of frightening, with the attacking prowess on show quite hair-raising.nnLast Saturday’s 54-0 trouncing of Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop epitomised what Daniel Anderson’s side have been churning out week in week out for some time now. After that, a home tie against Super League‘s bottom side should make walking in the park seem like running a bath.nnAnderson has no injury problems to contend with, as back-rower Chris Flannery (knee) and Lee Gilmour, who missed the trip to the capital for the birth of his child, return to the 19-man squad.nnCastleford did pick up their first win from five last Sunday, with a hard-earned 18-10 win over Hull KR, but must cope without forwards Awen Guttenbeil (calf) and Craig Huby (shoulder).nnI have been made to look silly with some of my predictions this season, but this really is an “eat my hat” fixture.nn Wakefield v Hull FC nnThe Sky fixture on Saturday evening is a warm-up for this month’s Challenge Cup semi-final between Wakefield and Hull FC.nnBoth sides lost last weekend, FC going down 30-18 at home to Les Catalans, and Wakefield on the wrong end of a battering at Warrington, losing 60-24.nnEngland centre Atkins is out for Wakefield, after sustaining a a knee ligament tear in last Sunday’s 60-24 defeat. Prop Adam Watene is also out, having fractured his eye socket in a reserves game last week, while wingman Jason Demetriou is welcomed back to the 19-man squad after an ankle injury.nnHull FC trio Garreth Carvell, Matt Sing and Willie Manu should all make returns after picking up knocks in last Sunday’s defeat, although Adam Dykes is still out with a knee injury.nnWakefield are still chasing a play-off spot, and are in seventh place only due to a slightly inferior points difference compared to Bradford.nnThe Airlie Birds, on the other hand, have no play-off hopes whatsoever, and have won just one in six. The fact that this game takes on some meaning for John Kear’s Wakefield, who also have vital home advantage, should ultimately prove the difference in this one.nn Les Catalans v Harlequins nnThe other form team of the competition is Les Catalans, who picked up their sixth straight win at the KC Stadium last Sunday. They lie just a point behind St Helens and Leeds, and are heavily expected to keep up their superb recent form with a home win over Harlequins on Saturday night.nnThe London side are quite the opposite, with five losses from six. They were put to the sword by St Helens last week, but are boosted here by the return half-back Danny Orr, prop Karl Temata and backs David Howell and Jon Wells. Prop Gareth Haggerty is the only major absentee with a knee injury.nnMick Potter’s French outfit have Jerome Guisset and Jason Croker to choose from again, and no other real injury problems.nnHarlequins sit four points off sixth place, and have seen their top six hopes fizzle out with each week that passes. They do still have slim hopes of a top six finish, but a defeat here, which is expected, would effectively put an end to those hopes.nn Hull KR v Wigan nnWigan have picked up a decent bit of form of late, and look to build on last Friday’s thrilling 23-22 win over Leeds with a tough trip to Craven Park, in the only Sunday fixture.nnThe Cherry & Whites have four wins and a draw from their last six, while Rovers have now lost five on the run, as their play-off dream fades away rapidly. Rovers are now five points adrift of sixth place, and anything but a win here would, like Harlequins, kill off their aspirations here.nnRovers prop Makali Aizue looks set to feature, after making only one sub appearance since the defeat at Wigan back in March, as does second rower Jason Netherton. That’s the only real good news for head coach Justin Morgan, though, as he has to do without five first-team regulars.nnBrian Noble has had his fair share of injuries to contend with of late, too, and is still without centre Phil Bailey (hamstring) and forward Paul Prescott (back).nnThe good news for Noble, however, is the return of captain Sean O’Loughlin, whose broken shoulder blade has forced him out of the last six matches. Powerful prop Iafeta Paleaasina has also recovered for this game, shaking off an injury sustained in the 38-20 defeat of Harlequins two weeks ago, whilenGeorge Carmont and Michael McIlorum have also been given the all-clear.nnWigan are the form team of this fixture, and should pick up the two points, although have been known not to turn up for Sunday afternoon fixtures. The prediction is an away win, although it isn’t a prediction backed up by concrete confidence.nnnThis weekend is as crucial as any other, with the engage Super League table poised to take a vital shape within the next few weeks.nnLet’s hope the more wary, reserved approach to this preview pays off. After all, eating hats isn’t a habit I fancy getting into. nnMy Predictions:nnWarrington v Bradford – Home WinnLeeds v Huddersfield – Home WinnSt Helens v Castleford – Home WinnWakefield v Hull FCHome WinnLes Catalans v Harlequins – Home WinnHull KR v Wigan – Away Win

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